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Evolving from Product Owner to Intrapreneur Amongst Red Tape - Part I

If you stopped by to click on this article, it was for one of three reasons.

  1. You were thinking “what the heck is an Intrapreneur” or is this a weird typo?
  2. I’m a product owner. I should read this. It says product owner in the title.
  3. Death to red tape and process, amirite?

I’m hoping that it is a combination of all three. I’ve worked at countless agencies and non-profit organizations, so when I made the leap into the corporate world I, admittedly, thought it wouldn’t be a good fit. Instead I ended up adoring, learning, growing, and having some of the most valuable experiences in the corporate world. However, there were a few corporate stereotype validated

  • Large hierarchy systems lead to slower decision making + lead time
  • In order to scale to their size, processes were put in place for safeguards
  • Just as you feel you have pushed something over the line, you come across some unpredictable red tape

As a product owner – someone who’s title contains the word “owner” – these types of constraints can leave you feeling incapable to do your job. I’m here to tell you that there is a way to take these constraints and still become an Intrapreneur. What is intrapreneurship?

Intrapreneurship

In • tra • pre • neur • ship (n)
  1. Successful adaptation of entrepreneurial attitudes and strategies inside of bureaucratic organization
  2. Implementation of start-up practices within a large organization, producing valued innovation

And the best way to build up to intrapreneurship amongst red tape and process is through improving the layers of your work ecosystem. Your working ecosystem comprises all of the layers that make up the elements of your career. This article dives into how to be a better product owner or Intrapreneur at a large company by elevating each layer in your work ecosystem.

Layer 1 - Yourself

The first layer in your work ecosystem revolves around you! It’s the easiest layer to focus on, it is at the core, and you have the most autonomy over it. This is also the largest layer because you will continuously evolve and draw from it.

Don’t let roles and responsibilities define you – Do More!

Intrapreneurs are the dreamers. We want to feel empowered to implement and heard throughout all boroughs when an idea pops in our head. One common thing I see in the heavy process prone environments is an importance on roles and responsibilities. With that comes a fear to step out of your role.

If you want to be an Intrapreneur, I challenge you to throw away this concept of “I am an [insert title here]” and DO MORE.

What do I mean by that? Think about your day to day. Now think about how you can elevate that. For me, one of my responsibilities focus on prioritizing the product backlog. How can I elevate this task? I fight hard to make sure that some amount of user research is done for everything I touch. What if there isn’t any funding? Get creative, do more. I’ve walked the halls of a 26-story building and asked strangers to review a prototype or thrown what I call “testing parties.” User research elevates my ability to prioritize the product backlog.

This is me elevating my role, doing more than expected, and investing in my product and team. Speaking of team ...

Layer 2 - Team

When people ask me if I manage people as a product owner, I really resonate with the following quote:

“Product is this tough job where no one truly works for you. The engineering team doesn’t report to you. They don’t really have to do what you say, but you have to be their leader anyway.”

Your team is pivotal to building valuable products for end users. Intrapreneurs recognize this, and in order to lead a highly engaged and high performing team, you must adhere to four things:

empathy, inclusion, support, and self-reflection

Empathy

Empathize with any and all groups. Yes. We all work, collaborate, and dare I say, brainstorm together, but are we empathizing with each other? If you’re a product owner, when was the last time you sat down with a developer and asked them what they liked and disliked working on? Seeing things from another lens opens up your perspective.

Inclusion

Empathy leads to inclusion. A team doesn’t feel motivated if they do not feel included in the process. Just because I am the “decision maker” that doesn’t mean my sole ideas yield the highest value. Also, recognize that everyone is coming from different walks of life and with that comes different vantage points to a problem. If the team feels included, they will also feel empowered. That’s when the magic happens.

Support

Support your team. Don’t make a mistake by overpromising to leadership because you haven’t talked to the team. Should you be technical enough to code? Maybe not, but you can still show interest in the things they are creating, learning, or are excited about. Put aside time to sit at their desk to bounce ideas off of each other or read an article on the latest Sketch release. Give out kudos and words of encouragement. Hear about their process griefs and see if there is an opportunity to help improve it. Be supportive.

Self-Reflect

This whole time we have talked about how you can support the team to make them want to work with you more. But don’t forget about what you can do on your own so that they say “You got to work with Laura”. Check your ego at the door. Arrogance doesn’t yield influence. Check in and see if you are being more needy than helpful. Are you constantly asking for favors or are you checking in with others to see how you can lend a helping hand? Self-reflect on your relationships with all team members.

What are the other layers?

You and your team is only scratching the surface to building up to intrapreneurial characteristics. However, they make the most necessary and fundamental layers in your work ecosystem. Once you start self-reflecting on your contributions, ability to help, and commitment to doing more as a product owner, the real magic starts to cultivate. Navigating your surroundings, managing your product, and developing a vision allow you to level up and get closer to intrapreneurship. In my next post, I will cover how to develop the other layers in your work ecosystem and get closer to a high performing work ecosystem you can be proud of.

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About The Author

Product Owner

Laura is a product owner consultant at Cardinal Solutions' Columbus office. With her diverse background in project management and content marketing, she has found her passion in delivering valuable products users crave. Laura also is a Co-Organizer for Columbus Web Group and serves as a professional advisor for The Ohio State University's PRSSA Chapter and Student-Run PR Firm.