Life can be challenging as a Product Owner, particularly when key members of that team sit within an external supplier or agency. Although this at first can appear difficult to manage, there are effective ways to overcome this.
I recently received the following questions on this very topic from a past attendee on one of my training courses, and I wanted to share my advice on how teams can remove such impediments to maintain transparency and collaborative ways of working.
Do you have any tips on how to work when an external agency forms the majority of the Scrum team? I act as Product Owner, but the remainder of the roles sit with our agency. This means that the ScrumMaster role is purely focused on helping the agency’s development team, and any blockers that may come internally to our business come straight to me. There is no one to step in and manage these effectively.
I can see why it might make sense for you to own these issues, as you will know best how and where to get them resolved. However, you will need to have the bandwidth to do it and if possible it would increase Transparency if the Agency team could talk directly to your relevant business stakeholders (you would need to make sure that they know who to talk to, and be happy that they will get the correct advice).
You should raise your concerns about this in the Sprint Retrospective. Make sure that you have specific examples of where this has happened and the impact you feel it is having. Discuss and agree possible changes to the way of working with the other members of the team. Report this and the other Retrospective Actions that you have agreed at the next Sprint Review so that the issue and what you and the Agency are doing about it is Transparent to all stakeholders on both sides. This Transparency will encourage the Agency to Inspect and Adapt their way of working.
Transparent and collaborative ways of working
In relation to the first question, one member of our internal team would also sit within the development team. He has an advanced technical knowledge of our systems and is there to ensure efficiencies. He is very solution driven. Do you have any advice on how to ensure that the agency understands his role, appreciates it and involves him where necessary?
So far I have got the impression that they are trying to make us conform to their way of working, and aren’t willing to appreciate that we already have some aspect of this development team in-house. Essentially sometimes he will be able to tell them what exactly needs doing so that they can complete the work, rather than them going away and working out a solution themselves.
If he is a member of the Development Team then he should be involved in Product Backlog Refinement and all Sprint meetings (Planning, Daily Scrum, Review and Retro). He should also ideally be co-located with everyone else in the team, and have open communication links (e.g. instant messenger/chat) with them if not. Raise the question of his involvement in the Sprint Retrospective.
Make sure that you have specific examples of what they have done to give you “the impression that they are trying to make us conform to their way of working, and aren’t willing to appreciate that we already have some aspect of this development team in-house”. Get them to agree to involve him more. Again, report this and the other Retrospective Actions that you have agreed at the next Sprint Review so that the issue and what you and the Agency are doing about it is Transparent to all stakeholders on both sides. This Transparency will encourage the Agency to Inspect and Adapt their way of working.
If you’d like to learn all about the role of the Product Owner within a Scrum team, then join myself on one of our upcoming Certified Scrum Product Owner course dates.
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This Q&A was also posted to the agil8 LinkedIn Community Group, where further valuable input and comments were given by fellow Agile professionals with specialism in this field. To see the full conversation on this topic and to join in the conversation, then head over to the agil8 LinkedIn Community Group.
If you have anything to add to this conversation, then we’d love to hear your comments.