Today it is imperative to be able to quickly build and deliver innovative and advanced software products. Not only to keep the business growing but simply functioning just above the tide. Business virtually always demands the increments of the products to be delivered as soon as possible for many obvious reasons. For this purpose, software development companies can use the old concept of outsourced parts of the work to contractors. Obviously, in close cooperation with their proxy product owner. 

Nowadays, there are several well-explored and safe ways how not to fail with subcontracting software development. One of them – R&D augmentation in nearshoring model was well described in the other article you might read – Nearshoring – more opportunities for your business.

Complementary to this article, it is very important to mention a role that fits greatly to this business model – Proxy Product Owner.

Why is proxy product owner needed and difference with PO?

Proxy Product Owner is often described as a SCRUM antipattern. The main reason is that the Product Owner is defined as a single accountable person for the product, and the Proxy PO – PO tandem is not defined by SCRUM. Still “Don’t let the turkeys get you down”, because while running a software development of a complex product and using multiple, often distributed development teams, the Product Owner is frequently exposed to significant vulnerabilities, and it is especially visible for the R&D augmentation in nearshoring model.

Why Proxy Product Owner is even needed?

To deliver software products fast and in top quality, the development teams need to be driven mainly via precision. The key is fine ordered, and always up-to-date product backlog. For a Product Owner that might be a challenge. Since this is the sole person responsible for a product and multiple development teams can work on the product in remote locations. Several typical symptoms show that the development team might not perform at the top of their capacity. Here are a few important ones.

Product Owner is not available for the development team. Often you may encounter a message like this:  “I can’t do the Planning/Refinement/Retrospective/Review now, I am on the meeting, it’s important”. I bet it is! The Product Owner is very often involved in many discussions, several times difficult ones. Generally, there are multiple stakeholders in the organization, one more dominant than the other.

Why is proxy product owner needed and what difference with PO?

The Product Owner needs to negotiate the priorities and budget. Also, clarify requirements and advocate for the product features, implemented as stakeholders and users assess the results. Those are all very important and time-consuming activities and the development team needs its Product Owner. There are several cases when a Product Owner might use some help in working on the backlog with the development team. This also means responding to the team member’s questions without unnecessary delays. It all depends on the case, but very often introducing a Proxy Product Owner will benefit to keeping the work rhythm. Another pros is raising velocity in delivering the product increments. Proxy PO can work closely with the team, ensuring the product backlog is clear and well-ordered. All agile ceremonies are conducted properly to elevate to the most effective of the agile process and keep at the top the product quality and value.

Proxy Product Owner role in software development nearshoring and R&D augmentation

Product Owner is not collaborating well in agile with the development team. Sometimes the organization didn’t adopt agile yet, and it needs to develop, iterate or maintain a product, especially software. The software development team knows that the agile approach will be the most effective in achieving success. Still, the person accountable for the product will be designated from within the organization, which is not familiar with the agile approach yet. This has some bright sides, the Manager (let’s call him that for convenience) has very good knowledge of the business case, she/he controls the budget, and has already trust and confidence of the organization. On the other hand, the software development team needs a Product Owner, who can participate in the agile workflow (Planning, Retrospective, Refinement, Review) and knows the agile principles and culture. Proxy Product owner will help the Manager to take her/his part as a Product Owner.

Remember dear reader, educating oneself and gaining experience is necessary to be a successful PO. The Manager can be a very good PO but until then, the Proxy PO is a fine piece of a workable solution, which will be successful when implemented properly.
That solution is possible with one of the outsourcing models, which is IT staff augmentation. Read more about this model in our article IT staff augmentation – flexible way of scaling the IT team.

Communication and Collaboration

While working in a distributed environment this is the most important point which lies underneath all problems and it makes it a challenge to maintain effective and instant communication within the distributed teams. First of all the Product Owner should strive for a communication strategy to have an overlap time between the different time zones. Still, this might not be enough because the most effective channels of communication are whiteboarding and face-to-face communication. Live video conference and screen sharing might be sufficient but it may not be possible to use one at any time, whenever a problem occurs.

To mitigate the risk of unnecessary delays and improve overall collaboration it can be beneficial to introduce a Proxy Product owner, ideally co-located with the development team or at least with a very broad time zone overlap with the team. This can improve responsiveness to the questions and issues which are constantly occurring throughout the whole development process.

Different work cultures and language

In a global, distributed environment the team members or even whole teams can originate from different cultures. Some of the cultural norms might be not well suited at the first glance to the modern agile engineering approach. For example taking the requirements without asking any questions or raising objections simply because the PO appears higher in the hierarchy, even though it gives no value to the product is wrong in the context of agile values. First of all, there should be a common awareness of cultural differences among teams to help communicate and understand each other productively. This can be achieved by multiple means and one of the more effective is setting up the Proxy Product Owner who on one hand shares the agile engineering values and on the other hand, understands the team members’ values.

How Proxy Product Owner can help in the nearshoring model?

Distributed agile engineering needs more team effort and ownership than co-located project team in adapting to the agile practices. Having a Proxy Product owner offshore/near-shore is very useful for the development team members to clarify requirements and get their queries answered immediately during their daytime. Proxy PO (PPO) has to mirror the PO as much as possible to avoid any conflict and differences in delivery expectations. Clear demarcation of roles/responsibilities between PO & PPO. At the end of the day, this tandem has to serve the one goal which is very distinctly stated in the Scrum Guide – “The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from work of the Development Team.” If introducing a Proxy PO is what it takes to maximize the product values, it is definitely worth giving a try.

Read our article if you are interested in the Top 5 changes in the Scrum Guide.

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