One can read far too often that being a Proxy Product Owner is a shame. There are many blog posts or articles that suggest that such a position is toxic and counterproductive. For instance, there is a really good read available on Barry Overeem’s blog. But even here, on this website, you can find an answer to a question – What to do if you are a Proxy Product Owner?
I have to admit that I had similar thoughts at the beginning of my journey with Product Management and Agile software development. However, I changed my mind. I don’t look at that as an anti-pattern anymore and I can present two stances of Proxy Product Owner to explain my point of view. Before going any further make sure that you know who is considered as a Proxy Product Owner.
Product Owners Assistant
When a product is complex and demanding companies often split it into multiple sub-products. For instance, a very large phone application can be split into iOS, Android and Backend branches. In our example (assuming they are implementing Scrum), there will be 3 products with 3 Scrum teams. However 1 PO can cover multiple teams, he might run out of time to address all questions from developers.
Hiring 3 assistants and giving them a specific role of backlog management and the strictly technical execution of a plan is well known and widely used pattern.
When correctly executed – it works.
Junior Product Owner
When one would like to start a journey in Product Management he will be inexperienced at the beginning. When such an employee is being hired on the Product Owners position he needs to learn a lot. If we empower him and let him make decisions from the beginning – he will make a lot of mistakes (we all did). Those mistakes are often costly for the organization.
It will be way better to let that man gather knowledge as a Proxy and later on give him more and more power.
So why people complain so much?
Because they are getting hired without being honestly told what their role will be. Proxy is not a creative position. Many will like it. For many, it will be a perfect job. But… When you put ambitious and independent talent into such a role you are asking for problems.