One of the many advantages of Agile methodologies is the fact that they allow for scaling and are susceptible to the introduction of extensions (ScrumAnd) to improve communication. A good example of this is the appointment of a Product Owner on the part of the IT supplier. But is it a good solution for your project?
IT project management: our or their responsibility?
When the Product Owner (PO) is located on the client’s side, the development team may lose responsibility for the time frame of the project, and ongoing communication and prioritizing tasks may turn out difficult. However, the client is often concerned about the appointment of a PO which is not his company’s employee. The greatest doubts are whether he will be able to fulfill specific PO duties and take care of the product needs at the same time. The problem is complex and should be considered taking into account the specifics of the project and both organizations. It is worth considering the degree of maturity of the organization in the use of Agile methodologies.
Product Owner on the client side: the most common problems
While the following issues appear to affect mainly the development team, from an overall perspective, the entire project suffers. What are the most common challenges in projects with Product Owner is on the client’s side?
- Communicational difficulties due to time reasons – rarely the PO can fully devote itself to the obligations arising from their role. Most often it is an additional activity that should be compatible with their basic duties. In practice, this means that the PO permanently has no time for the development team, and their activity comes down to being available to stakeholders. Instead of a product backlog, the PO in such a configuration prioritizes responsibilities related to his or her main position, and treats the PO function as less important.
- Product Owner’s lack of competence – the PO function is often assigned to people who are specialists in other fields and were recruited for positions where knowledge of the specific role of PO is not required. This can lead to confusion when working with a development team that is efficient in the Agile methodology.
- Differences in Agile interpretation – each company has its own work culture and interpretation of Agile methodology, which is particularly important in the case of projects related to digital products. The Product Owner’s behavior is influenced by the type of organization from which they originate, and in which the agile methodology is usually not used entirely (ScrumBut) or interchangeably with typical cascade management. In practice, when it comes to working with a team for which agile is the natural and only way to cooperate, conflicts and misunderstandings arise.
- Relationships, culture and language – a well-functioning team consists of people who are connected by a relationship, which is easiest to build based on direct contact. Product Owner who does not cooperate with the development team on a daily basis, may encounter difficulties in contacts with individual team members. If, in addition, there are differences resulting from the use of other languages, staying in different time zones and culture – the problem may escalate.
Product Owner on the supplier’s side – what do you gain?
An increasingly common solution to the above-mentioned problems is placing the PO on the supplier’s side. Sometimes this role is called the Proxy Product Owner, and in projects where scaling is necessary to maintain flow, this seems to be the only effective solution. What can you gain by introducing such a configuration?
- Permanent availability of the PO – most often it cooperates with the development team in the same location and at the same time intervals. This enables ongoing communication both in terms of tasks from the backlog and giving them a business context “on site”.
- One backlog, one Product Owner – placing PO on the IT solutions provider’s site when outsourcing IT projects is the only chance to implement this golden rule of Agile methodologies. The PO on the developer’s side is fully committed to its role and doesn’t have to share it with other responsibilities. This solution reduces the stress caused by assigning the PO function to an employee on the client’s side.
- Relationship and motivation – PO working with the development team, accessible, communicative and familiar to its members, has wide opportunities in terms of motivating them and positively influencing the efficiency of their work.
- Partnership – when the causes of conflicts mentioned above are removed, the cooperation between the customer and the supplier goes to a higher level. From the customer’s perspective, an external development team that fulfills its arrangements, perfectly motivated by a committed Product Owner, becomes not so much a contractor as a partner in product creation process.
When is it worth appointing a proxy Product Owner?
If the current way of conducting projects did not meet your expectations and you noticed the above-mentioned problems – it’s time to try a new solution. Our experience shows that although clients have concerns about the degree of business involvement and the Product Owner’s understanding of the specifics of the project in such a configuration, tangible results of this constellation quickly bring the expected results.