June 5, 2015

Where are you Mr(s) Product Owner?

Where are you now?An engaged Product Owner is essential to success in any Agile methodology or process. If the PO is on a remote site, or simply too busy, this can cause problems for the team.

The solution is to have a co-located full time PO dedicated to the true product. This may be more than one team, but it must not be more than one product. (See Large Scale Scrum for scaling using more than one team per product).

However, as organisations evolve, they may not yet be in the position to have a dedicated PO or a PO in the same location. For this we have to use work arounds and these are not optimal, but may help whilst a medium or long term transformation is in place.

One work around is to have a proxy product owner. A proxy product owner or PPO, can focus on the internal aspects of the team, such as backlog refinement, answering day to day questions and in the case of the remote different time zone PO, the PPO can attend meetings and free the team up to have them when they want to and to be constrained to overlapping time zones.

Having a PPO of course causes an additional hand-off between PO and PPO and this handoff is your Achilles heal. It can cause information loss and mis-alignment. However, this is often better than a non-engaged PO.

If that PPO is not a true product person and they come from a technical background, then they are a Temporary Fake Product Owner (TFPO). This comes from LeSS and is the most aptly named role in all of Agile in my opinion.

A technical person from the team should not be the PO. And so by definition, the TFPO is decidedly temporary and fake. This emphasises to the Product Ownership team that they do really need to supply a proper PPO or PO as soon as possible.

Splitting the PO role into two people, one outwardly looking, managing stakeholders and clients, commercial aspects and long term planning, and the other inwardly looking, managing the backlog, being at team meetings etc, is better than a distant non-engaged PO, but must be understood to be a temporary fix to cover up an underlying structural or engagement problem.

Simon Powers
Simon Powers is an Agile Coach specialising in large scale transformations and agile adoption. He has a background in very large enterprise architecture which has led on to organisational design and agile process refinement. Simon is the founder of Adventures with Agile.