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Beyond Agile Software Development

WHAT…The Product Owner ISN’T The Customer

So it appears I may have been doing the right thing wrong all this time…Scrum talks about a Product Owner role and I’ve always had teams setup so the the customer (one or more actual people) fulfils this role. Recent discussions on the Scrum mailing list seem to say this isn’t the case.

Personally I’d rather the customer takes control of the product they’re paying to have built. Having an intermediary within IT making decisions on their behalf seems like a problem waiting to happen. In fact I’ve witnessed this first hand in a previous company (remaining nameless to protect the guilty) and mess that ensued.

The IT based Product Owner gets IT based goals and objectives and their primary objective is related to the software and not the organisational value that should be the ultimate goal. You got a business problem – you can guarantee the Product Owner will come up with an IT solution to solve it. Then you take a less-than-optimal-business-process and enshrine it in some software that is far more costly and complex to fix and becomes more difficult to use.

The closer I’ve had the customer to the development team the more successful the projects I’ve been involved in have been. Maybe it’s just coincidence but then I don’t believe in coincidence….

Sure it may seem impossible to change your organisation to adapt to getting the customer closer to the development team…that’s fine if you like living with pain. Have the courage to change the organisation and see the difference it makes. Agile/Lean don’t solve organisational issue they merely make them much more visible!

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3 Responses to “WHAT…The Product Owner ISN’T The Customer”

  1. I agree with you that an IT product owner is bad. At Siemens Medical, our Product Owner was an ex-clinician that spent some time implementing software in their domain. On my team, he was an ex-scrub nurse from Europe. On another team, it was a lead oncologist. This meant that they had domain expertise AND they had a basic understanding of software complexity.

    Why not just talk to the customer? Because our product owner consolidated the needs and served as a proxy for 5-10 beta customers.

    • Was your product owner accountable to the customer/business or to the IT side of the house?

      I’ve had similar situations (e.g. rollout of a product to every country in Europe, each having its own legislative rules that needed implementing) and having customer reps is one way of solving the problem. Having the reps from the business is the key rather than being IT folks – even if they have IT knowledge they are still a step removed from the real customer.

  2. Ours answered to the marketing/business side of the house. The PM over all the scrum masters reported to the IT side of the house.


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