Why Proxy Product Owner is not an antipattern?

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.

4 thoughts on “Why Proxy Product Owner is not an antipattern?”

  1. Good post. It is important and different point of view, but… if you will have to pick one man to your team. Will it be Proxy or real PO? I think that everyone knows the answer. Of course it will be the real Po, because the real one brings more value.

    But this is probably also true, that hirin a proxy is often cheaper than hiring a real-deal.

    So this is just cost per value problem. As always!

  2. Story of my life. A couple of years back I landed at a job within a battered company. They were going into a massive reshuffle and downsizing in the midst of an outsourcing plan. I was lured by a position as a project manager but eventually was cast as a proxy po without having the vaguest idea about what it could be. There’s definitely room for improvement of the nomenclature. Because the way it is might suggest some kind of redundancy with the product owner whereas the SCRUM principles advocate clear separation of tasks. Since the role consists in monitoring the implementation of the product backlog items with a level of technical expertise that both the scrum master and the product owner are not expected to show, it deserves a name of its own. Why not call it “product warden” or “product controller” or even “product master”? Hence this essential role will be receive the respect it is entitled to.

    • Hi MuliKo, thanks for your answer.

      I know that in some companies, the person who is pushing initiatives through tribes is called PMO (Program/Project Management Officer), so maybe that’s a way to go?

      Also, from what you wrote I think that the work you did was important and valuable. Remember that is way more important than the title itself 🙂


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