Proxy Product Owner and difference with Product Owner

What is a Proxy Product Owner? Furthermore, when is it relevant to have a Proxy Product Owner? At last, what a Product Owner can and cannot delegate to a Proxy PO?

What is a Product Owner?

The PO is the voice of the customers for the Agile Squad. He/she may rely on Subject Matter Experts to carry the VoC but he/she should know enough to prioritize the features and maximize value delivered by the Agile Squad. At last, the PO validates the features potentially with the help of the SME.

Proximity of the PO with the Agile Squad is key

Proxy Product Owner and Product Owner: the Product Owner has still direct contact with the Agile Squad but can delegate part of the support to understand the business needs to the Proxy Product Owner.
  • Purpose: the PO acts as a living reminder of the business vision and strategy, therefore reduces the risk of deviation for the Agile Squad.
  • Time to Market: he/she ensures a fast lane for business information and decisions, therefore reduces risk of delay for the Agile Squad.
  • Efficiency: he/she supports removing roadblocks that may happen on the business side if the Scrum Master is not enough, therefore reduces loss of energy for the Agile Squad.

Scrum Master and Product Owner mirroring for Continuous Improvement

  • Firstly, business need maturation: it is part of the Scrum Master role to challenge the Product Owner on his/her activities (User stories readiness, Backlog refinement).
  • Secondly, Agile Squad maturity: the PO brings a valuable point of view as business representative on the agile maturity and the performance of the Agile Squad.

What is a Proxy Product Owner?

« Proxy » stands for intermediary. In other words, the Proxy PO act as an intermediary between the PO and the Agile Squad on some activities.

This is clearly not something agile promotes so the benefits of having an intermediary on some topics should balance the drawbacks.

The Proxy PO, also called PPO, should receive an explicit delegation on a clear scope from the PO. Clearly, he/she is fully empowered on these topics and does not have to refer to the PO to take a decision.

Before we go further, let’s have a look on the PO anti-patterns to make sure that the Proxy PO is not a way to palliate a situation that is actually anti-agile.

What are the Product Owner anti-patterns?

  • No PO
    • IT takes decisions alone for the business.
    • The Voice of Customer is not represented by the business, at least to build the product.
    • The Business does prioritize the build of the product.
  • IT PO
    • This is more or less the same except that in this anti-pattern, the IT PO is external to the Agile Squad.
  • Business PO with a partial mandate
    • The empowerment of the PO is limited to his/her scope.
    • The decision process may be slower with additional validation steps.
    • The PO’s decisions and prioritization may not be consistent with the intent of the whole business.
  • Business PO who is not (any longer) operational
    • The PO may have a limited understanding of the operations in the real life.
    • The PO’s decisions and prioritization may not be the proper intent of the whole business.
  • Several Business POs for the same product
    • Each PO is empowered on his/her scope.
    • There is an additional negotiation delay in the decision cycle and a possible averaging consensus on decisions.
    • Business value is locally optimized at sub-scope level not globally for the product.

How to assign a Proxy Product Owner?

When to have a Proxy Product Owner?

In some case, there may be a need to introduce a role of Proxy PO to palliate the following situations:

  • The PO is the right person but has a limited operational availability.
  • The PO is in a different location than the Agile Squad with complication parameters that may include: different time zones, different native languages and different cultures.

Concerns to keep in mind when assigning a Proxy PO:

  • Firstly, there should be only one Proxy PO for a given Agile Squad to minimize the impact of assigning an intermediary.
  • Secondly, the Product Owner remains fully accountable for the product and the value delivered.
  • At last, the PO should liaise closely with the PPO to reduce the impact of this set up.

What a Product Owner can and cannot delegate to the Proxy PO?

What are the Product Owner has some key business responsibilities that can not be delegated?

  • Product Vision: where should the product be in 1-2 year(s)? In addition, this includes all the relationship with the Product Management Team (PMT).
  • Product Strategy: how should the product achieve this vision?
  • Product Decision: which decisions should be taken to fulfill this strategy? This includes the prioritization of the features and user stories.
  • Business Alignment on product: are all business stakeholders aligned with the Product Vision, Strategy and decisions ?
  • Product Delivery Validation: do the features and user stories delivered meet the POs acceptance criteria?

Transferring one of those items listed above is no more delegating: it is actually transferring the ownership.

What are the PO activities that can delegated to the Proxy PO?

  • Firstly, assistance to write User Stories. Furthermore, this may include, in advance cases of delegation, the split of the features in user stories.
  • Secondly, assistance on keeping the backlog up-to-date.
  • Thirdly, support the Agile Squad to understand the product and related business needs.

Who can be Proxy PO?

  • An Scrum Master cannot be Proxy PO as there would be a conflict between his/her role and the delegation of PO activities.
  • Prefer a person coming from the Business and involved on a day to day basis in operations.
  • If not possible, as the delegation is mostly about clarifying the business need, Business Analyst is a good candidate to play the role of Proxy PO.
  • For remote Agile Squads, prefer a Proxy PO in the same location as the Agile Squad to maximize proximity and availability that PO does not have.

Never Give up to have a fully played PO role!

Challenge regularly the relevance of keeping the Proxy Product Owner role, as it remains a down graded situation in comparison to a Product Owner alone fully playing his/her role.

What’s next? Learn more about Agile and Agile at Scale

There are plenty of other materials around Agile and Agile at Scale. Here is my post to have an introduction to Agile at Scale.

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