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Product Owner! That’s a stupid idea!

You need to leave the office to learn what you don’t know!!!! 

Go where the people you’re helping work.

I was thrilled attending Jeff Patton’s talk at Agile 2012 with the provoking title of ”Why Product Owner is a stupid idea” it seemed to be a promising talk.
Jeff is one of those people who have important stuff on his mind and every time I have attended one of his talks it has been very interesting to listen to. So I was shock of this strike at the Scrum and Agile concept of being a Product Owner or Product Champion. Why the hell….?
At that time I just had used an year implementing 5 teams with a dedicated P.O. which seemed to work at e-conomic J I was proud as the new P.O. superman started to perform and everybody knew where to go with their problems.  Yet, the P.O.’s were soon over worked and becoming another proxy for the business. 
Not seeing this at once must have been my excitement of having implemented an agile way of working .
The challenges with P.O.’s are many and now we had set a new limit for scalability which was the capacity of these new supermen. With the best intention we implemented a P.O. structure and what we really did (subconsciously) was to set up a RACI. It is no different that classical project management. You might ask what is wrong with clear responsibility?

One of Jeff Patterns argument was that “Safety is not success” the output is, the value we are able to provide for the customers are the success – together! Together as a team, together as one business and working together with the customers. Trust and honesty. I agree with Jeff Pattern and a clear a priori responsibility definition doesn’t provide agility. Instead we have set up a new set of theBlame game

Where is the empathy, where is the understanding of the human interaction, where is the shared vision of wanting to change for the better? Working together towards the shared goal as a team in close collaboration with the customers is clearly more attractive and more responsible!  

Having ONE product Owner is not scalable! What happens when this person leaves the company, becomes ill or need for his/her services are too many to for fill?  Why is it only one person that is to understand the business, to talk with the customer, to see how the customers every day pain in situ? How should we get empathy behavior if we don’t meet face-to-face?  
One of the twelve principles behind the agile manifesto says that “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project” while many interpretations of the P.O. has indeed shielded the business away from the developers now information is delivered by this proxy the Product Owner. It doesn’t have to be this way that the P.O. act as a shield but many many many companies I’ve talked to has implemented this anti-pattern that the P.O. is become Proxy, the superman, the one representing the business.

What to do?
I believe that not many companies are at this position of being agile even though Jeff Pattern is working with companies like snagajob.com, Nordstrom, edmunds.com and like the the rest of us are working in companies just started or on the way towards more agility.
So let’s play. Write any comment on how you think we can get closer to our customers? We have so many methods to proxy for this like personae, empathy map, User experience mapping, journey map, Stakeholder mapping, Story boards,  user stories, Story mapping and more but no of these beats or substitutes the learning and understanding when seeing, feeling and sharing pains in an everyday working day.

You need to leave the office to learn what you don’t know!!!! 

Go where the people you’re helping work.


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