Product Owner By Proxy

Sounds like a legal loophole but it’s a valid agile approach.

The business stakeholders won’t assign a Product Owner to your agile development project. Now what? Can you implement Scrum, XP or Kanban without a Product Owner (PO)?

This is a common occurrence and there are insidious variations. At times, a PO is assigned but he is powerless, clueless or useless. It’s hard to be agile when the PO isn’t.

Product Owner by Proxy

The alternative is for the business stakeholders to appoint an agent (or proxy) to act on their behalf. The agent can be anyone in the organization as long as a few conditions are met. The agent must:

  1. Have a good understanding of what the business needs from the software.
  2. Be familiar with the underlying business processes that will use the software.
  3. Understand who the users are and how they will interact with the software.
  4. Be respected by the business stakeholders.
  5. Be empowered to make decisions on behalf of the stakeholders and users.
  6. Have the respect and trust of the software development team.
  7. Be able to balance features, costs, time and quality to achieve an optimal outcome.

PO by proxy isn’t an approach I’d strongly recommend. It should only be used when the business stakeholders balk at assigning a dedicated representative.

The agent is often a member of the IT or engineering organization — usually a business analyst. This creates an obvious conflict of interest. It’s been said that you cannot serve two masters. The agent is paid by IT/engineering but serves the business. It can work but there’s a very fine line to straddle.

Give it a try if you must. And one more thing — the agent has to be a good diplomat. There will be lots of negotiating, convincing and compromising.

Updated: April 26, 2011 — 10:47 pm