Proxy product owner

Last post 05:28 pm June 22, 2022
by Chuck Suscheck-PST
3 replies
09:33 pm June 20, 2022

A few months ago, my company started working on a project that will run for about a year. In theory, this should not be a complex project, since it simply implies altering some of the existing code to support a new brand. My previous team started working on this project and left it somewhere at the early stages.

About a month ago, our management decided this would be a great opportunity to "experiment" with a new temporary agile team (as some of the other teams are not that sucessfull) that the first that would mix business and IT. As a business analyst, I was the only business person going to that team. Our product owner is an IT guy. It started already the first few weeks when the PO did not attend any of the ceremonies (because he is too busy being the PO for several teams) and the scrum master will attend maybe once a week and organize ceremonies when it suits him.

I'm left with 3 new IT analysts (brand new, just joined the company), 1 new business person who just joined a week ago (that I'm supposed to train), 2 developers that are dependant on me providing the requirements, 1 developers who can't start (as they are running an older software for his application that needs to be upgraded by the manufacturor first) and of course I have tons of alignment meetings with business. So in short, I became their proxy product owner without them ever explicitely saying it. While I'm fine doing some of the business requirements supporting the PO, I got to a point I have so many things to do I can't keep people busy by doing the actual work I'm supposed to do (before we would do this with several people). I have told the PO this much but he feels like there is no real need for deliverables or prioritisation as we're just copying what is already there and besides, they always knew they hwouldn't have a dedicated PO for this project and it's hard to find one (then how would this be a valud "experiment"?). After 2 months, management decided the budget for the project is too high and things started going sideways as requirements started shifting. I didn't sign up to become their proxy PO and I'm pretty much disgusted. I keep telling myself I will go back to my old team (where my old PO would be very involved) but it's still a very long time.

I was wondering if someone had some advice on what to do in such a situation?

05:10 am June 21, 2022

Cancel the Sprint. Even if the Sprint Goal was met, value would not be served. You are not in a position to account for how investments and returns will be optimized. You only know there are losses. Find more valuable products to work on.

09:12 am June 21, 2022

It doesn't sound like you're doing scrum at all, and based on the level of dysfunction you're describing, it doesn't seem like something within your power to resolve. 

You really have two options; 

Talk to the team and be as open and courageous as you can about the challenge of the situation. Try to come up with a plan, together, for how you can effectively limit, plan, and deliver upon commitments in an incremental way, and then do everything in your power to prevent dysfunction outside the team from derailing you. This will likely involve some powerfully difficult conversations with management, and the NON-PO they have given the job title of PO.
(I would add as an aside to this, all your 'meetings' that are taking up time, if they aren't scrum events, stop attending. You'll soon learn which are actually important, but don't let tyrannical organizational structures force you into wasting your time)

Or, you can not take on the problem (which really, isn't yours to take on) and simply let it fail, as it inevitably will, but do everything in your power to make transparent why it's failing. 

05:28 pm June 22, 2022

Tough situation - of course I don't need to say.

I'd be asking what the leaders of the company expect to get out of agile and how they will know when they get it.  If they have an answer, everyone on the team should know it too.

If the answer is "save money" you can approach the work by trying to show that true agile reduces rework and therefore waste.  It's not meant to save $ but to make the right thing.

Another thing to look at is to raise transparency - hopefully not in a way that makes blame or hurts your career.  Then get those around to solve the problem not point blame.

I've seen (and been) a hired hand who is there to take the blame.  You may want to try that - get a consultant who knows that they're in place to have the hard conversations and they don't care if they are pushed out.  Sometimes someone from afar makes a better impact than those in house.