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During iteration retrospectives on agile projects, one of the topics that comes up most often for us is that the product owner is (or product owners are) not available or engaged in the project at a day to day level.

It seems to be a common theme that customers are unwilling to "give up" the necessary amount of their product owner's time to the project, but instead have them answer questions via email, or during product demos only. This has the effect of increasing the length of the feedback cycle and making the project less effective.

Have you had to overcome this hurdle? How did you do it?

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4 Answers

The product owner's presence in required meetings (Sprint Review and Planning) is (should be) non-negotiable. Do what you need to negotiate a time that works, and then absolutely hold the product owner to it. If something comes up, delay it but hold the product owner responsible for bringing the entire team to a halt.

If the product owner is actually (from) your customer and they are unwilling to participate in that capacity, then maybe it makes sense to find an internal Product Owner that communicates with the customer but is capable/authorized to make some calls on their own, on the customer's behalf. That is the typical arrangement anyhow, since there are some things that a Product Owner is responsible for that shouldn't really pass by a customer's eyes.

Otherwise, your only choice is basically to abandon agile. You're not going to make it work without a PO at those meetings.

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Of course abundant availability is better, but the scrum process provide the team with a lot of opportunities to get feedback from the product owner if periodic meetings are held propely by the scrum master.

This include estimation sessions, sprint planning, sprint review, retrospective.

This is a lot already.

If your project is complex and demand a higher product owner implication, the scrum master has to solve the problem for the team.

A good start would be to tell the product owner about the team's needs.

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Sure, but what if the product owner is unavailable for some or most of those meetings? –  Paddyslacker Sep 28 '10 at 19:53
    
The you have a very bad implementation of scrum. The top management has to do something: kill scrum, or make his employees to respect it. Having partial implementation will kill all advantages and make thing worse. –  user2567 Sep 28 '10 at 20:07
    
If you were to "abandon scrum" what would you do in its place? This doesn't seem like much of an agile approach to me. How do you convince the customer that this is in their best interests? –  Paddyslacker Sep 28 '10 at 20:13
    
Any system that existed before. Before scrum, there were already successful software projects. But question, is the product owner someone from your company right? –  user2567 Sep 28 '10 at 20:17
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You don't need to abandon scrum, you just need a new product owner. If the product owner doesn't care enough about the product to guide it, someone else will have to do. –  dash-tom-bang Sep 28 '10 at 20:49
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Daily seems like a lot for a product owner. Regardless of how often they are required, they need to know there are consequences for their lack or delayed input. If they want the project sooner/on-time, they may sacrifice and make the time commitment.

If you are 100% sold on an agile approach and your client is at 0%, you have a deadlock. Someone who is in charge needs to face the fact that business will run out the door requardless if you're agile, not agile, Windows only, Linux only, web only, embedded only, etc.

I'm trying to implement at way to get a commitment from project owners at our firm. There was a time when every single project I was working on, was waiting on a review, test, approval, etc. from someone else. Thank goodness for SO/SE.

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+1 for the pragmatic approach. Good luck getting those product owner commitments and let us know what is working for you. –  Paddyslacker Nov 8 '10 at 18:27
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@Paddyslacker - one thing that is working is keeping people in the loop with my schedule. I may say, let's try and get together this week since next week I'm in training and start a new/larger/higher priority project. They tend to make time to avoid going back several months in the cue. –  JeffO Nov 9 '10 at 3:04
    
queue, too much spellcheck. –  JeffO Nov 9 '10 at 3:05
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If the product owner is too busy be available to the team, that means that they aren't convinced that such time isn't productive towards the success of the project, or that the product owner doesn't care about the success of the project.

Presuming the former, it's your job to show the product owner how responsive an agile team can be to suggestions made by the product owner. If you can demo changes in the software that were in response to his comments and suggestions, he may come to understand why his involvement is in his best interest.

Above all, don't try to tell the product owner that this is what you need. Agile development is about solving his problems, don't let him think for a minute agile means that he has to solve your problems.

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