Thursday, September 10, 2009

Choosing the Proxy Product Owner

Agile methods recommend having a dedicated Product Owner sitting with the team. However in practice, many product owners come up with various reasons for not being able to sit with the team.

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Some of the popular ones being
  • We are very busy and don't have time
  • We don't have sufficient budget to allocate a person
  • It is the responsibility of the software company to gather requirement from us and understand it in one go
  • Project is very large and single product owner is not sufficient to manage. But we don't have budget for multiple product owners (as experienced in distributed large scale development model)
We could add many more reasons to the above list.

However the software companies cannot or won't push the customer too hard on this front as they fear losing the customers. Keeping the above practicality in mind, some thought leaders have come up with a concept called Proxy Product Owners.

Identifying the Proxy Product Owner

The thumb rule many people propose is to make the Business Analyst(BA) the proxy product owner. This is because, BAs are considered to have in depth knowledge about the business and they can prioritize the requirements with little or no help from real product owners. They could also clarify any doubts around requirements as needed.

The question is, is this thumb rule applicable to all projects ?

Challenges in small budget projects

In fact, I believe we cannot apply the same thumb rule everywhere. Not all software projects have the luxury of having a dedicated Business Analyst.

How do we deal with situations like this when BA is not available ?

Many agilists propose an alternate idea i.e. to identify a senior developer or project manager as the Proxy. However I believe it is not easy as choosing a proxy based on seniority. The proxy needs to meet certain criteria for playing this role.

My experience says, to be proxies should have
  1. built the trust with the product owner
  2. faith from the team members
  3. influence on the project team members and respected by other stakeholders
  4. the ability to make decisions and convince others

So, it is very important to look at above and may be other key criteria before choosing the proxy product owner, otherwise, the project could get into trouble soon.


Scott Duncan said...

Mike Cohn wrote effectively about "proxies" in his book "Agile Estimating and Planning" (pp. 55-62).

Anonymous said...

I like this post. Simple an clear. I agree with requirements to proxy product owner.

Casey Dale said...

Not everyone can be well suited for the position for PO. He/She is someone who has an in-depth knowledge about business needs for the product being delivered. The product owner has to be an individual as the decision making power cannot be given to a team. Moreover, Scrumstudy provides certificates for Scrum Product Owner Certified (SPOC) which you can see on the site of of Scrum Study itself.