How to avoid project discord? Embrace the Proxy Product

5 October 2018
Mikołaj Lehman

Your dream as an IT investor is to conduct a successful project and to receive the finest piece of software. Choosing the agile method and teaming up with a skillful software house, already puts you a step ahead of the competition. Now, it’s time to face a crucial dilemma – who will be a Product Owner in your project? Should it be you as a client? Or, is it better to get a Proxy Product Owner on board?

„Nobody said it was easy” – you probably heard the chorus of this song many times. Most likely Chris Martin wasn’t singing about running an IT project up to delivering an application, but still, we can all sing it along, because the mission is quite challenging.

Scrum project without a Product Owner

First things first, we need to list all the key players in this game. A scrum project requires a developers’ team, a Scrum Master, a client who is investing in a project, and a Product Owner.

Unfortunately, it’s a common scenario, that the last role is missing (or it is taken over by someone who shouldn’t be even taken into consideration). What does it mean for a project? In one word – trouble. If we don’t have a Product Owner, everything falls apart, because there’s no person who is fully responsible for explaining the business goals to the developers’ team. Without that crucial intel, the dev team is not able to deliver a product which you as an investor wanted it to be. Moreover, in this case, we’re lacking the shot caller who would make milestone decisions about the product development. Last but not least, the Product Backlog is not (always) up to date, and it’s not clear for everyone involved.

Investor as a Product Owner? Disaster!

In theory, it shouldn’t be a bad idea to assign a client to a Product Owner responsibilities. After all, who else knows more about the product goals, and what that particular application will be all about? So what’s the story here? Why is it a wrong turn for a project, if an investor jumps in the Product Owner’s shoes?

First of all, a client doesn’t have enough time to be always available for Scrum Master and developers, and what’s deadly essential – can’t find enough time to make right decisions when a dev team desperately need them. Second, an investor is not capable of managing a Product Backlog, meaning all the elements defining the final product. Third, an investor most likely doesn’t feel the vibe when it comes to the agile approach and handling the workflow during sprints. Finally, it takes time, effort, and competence to build a relationship with a dev team, and an investor probably will not even take a shot.

„My money, my product, I have to be a Product Owner”

Trust us, we have heard that a lot. A situation when a client comes to a software house and says „I am the investor, this is my application, so that makes me a Product Owner by definition”, is nothing unusual, but this approach is utterly wrong. Why?

To get the idea, we will take you to a football pitch for a few seconds. Yes, that’s right!
Imagine any football club you like. The developers are the players, they train hard, they keep fit, and they know the purpose – to win the match. Their coach and manager, the big guy on the bench, who is giving instructions (or giving out) is the Product Owner. The fellow with a whistle is the Scrum Master, who is running on the pitch, making sure that all the players follow the rules. If anything goes wrong, this referee is here to react immediately. There is also a VIP, the club’s sponsor, and this person refers the Client / Investor. Now, what would happen if the sponsor took over the coach’s place during the game? How would the players feel about it? How would it affect the final score? We know you get the point.

Proxy Product Owner to the rescue

Coming back to the IT reality, it’s nothing extraordinary that there’s nobody on the client’s side that can be empowered to be the Product Owner. Luckily, there’s a solution, a warlock, and super coach – the Proxy Product Owner. It’s a person designated by the software house, who is fully competent to back up the dev team.

Proxy Product Owner is the missing link between the investor and the software house. This Scrum native is the client’s representative in the project. He is in constant contact with the investor, so he knows everything about the product’s big idea and features. If anything changes, the Proxy is the first one to know, and the only one to pass that message to the developers. This person has everything that’s necessary to be able to make vital decisions about the project.

From the dev team perspective, the Proxy Product Owner is not an outsider, but their own kin. They know each other personally, and his in-depth knowledge about the Scrum nature brings confidence to the table.

Let’s play ball

It’s your project, it’s your application, it’s your money – that’s all true. No wonder you care so much. You want the whole process to be swift, efficient and possibly flawless. That’s why you need to let your software house invite their own Proxy Product Owner to the project. It will be the best. For everyone.

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