The 2 Best Product Owners I Ever Worked With – The Proxy Product Owner
A few years back I wrote 2 popular posts that talked about the best Scrum Masters I ever worked with. This time around I am going to share some stories about the best Product Owners I have encountered.
The first Product Owner (Matthew) was successful because he was empowered. You can read more about Matthew – The Empowered Product Owner.
The 2nd Product Owner, Gerry was not empowered but was still successful. Gerry was a different type of Product Owner.
The organisation, a global publisher, was new to Scrum and did not understand the importance of the Product Owner accountability. Peter, the person who would have been ideal as the Product Owner was “too busy” to take on the accountability. As a result, Gerry who up to this point had been a Business Analyst was appointed as Product Owner. He was what would typically be described as a proxy Product Owner.
I feared this would end badly. Typically the appointment of a proxy Product Owner leads to high levels of waste and frustration in and around the Scrum Team. However, on this occasion my initial assessment was wrong. Gerry made it work, despite the challenges he faced. Here is why Gerry turned out to be effective as a Product Owner.
Gerry was highly experienced as a Business Analyst with decades of experience. He was highly effective at talking to Peter and the other stakeholders to understand what they really needed. He was excellent at working with Developers and helping them understand what to build. It was rare that Peter or the other stakeholders would be disappointed with the results they saw in a Sprint Review.
Gerry was effective at working with Peter to order the Product Backlog and as a result Peter rarely disagreed with the day to day decisions Gerry made. Gerry made a significant effort to build and maintain an effective working relationship with Peter. He knew this would be vital to success. As a result, Peter would support Gerry on the occasions where he needed it. Peter would even cover for Gerry when he was absent and needed a substitute to work with the Scrum Team and stakeholders.
Gerry’s experience and collaborative nature won him the respect of his stakeholders and the Scrum Team. This made the performance of his duties easier as people would listen to him and trust his decisions and direction.
Over time the organisation recognised Gerry’s abilities and contribution and gave him greater authority. He was able to become what we describe as an Entrepreneurial (or mini CEO) Product Owner, despite his former proxy status.
With this enlarged mandate, he was able to drive further positive changes to the product. Release cycles moved from yearly to monthly, which meant early and regular delivery of value to stakeholders. It also reduced risk and waste as less time was spent in detailed planning and reporting meetings. Regular, shorter release cycles built trust which made things easier for all involved.
The product was ultimately hugely successful making tens of millions in revenue each year. This figure increased significantly each year as Gerry was able to work with the Scrum Team to deliver new features that were valuable for their customers.
Gerry and Matthew were very different types of Product Owners with different backgrounds and ways of operating. Both were successful despite their differing approaches and limitations. This is why we must always be cautious about following good practices in complex environments. The accepted wisdom is not always correct. It really does depend on your unique situation.
So that is my story, but what about yours? Who is the best Product Owner you have worked with and why?
Hi, my name is Simon Kneafsey and I am a Professional Scrum Trainer with Scrum.org & TheScrumMaster.co.uk. I am on a mission to simplify Scrum for a million people. I have helped over 10,000 people so far and I can help you too.