When your Product Owner sits next to you

It is always an interesting experience to work closely with the Product Owner (PO). However, I have never experienced working with a PO full time, and by this I mean sitting next to them in the office Monday to Friday. I would like to share some of my observations and what I’ve learnt.

This project took a rapid prototyping approach so I knew the whole team would benefit from the great opportunity to talk to the client at any time. The main challenge was not only building the actual product, but the fact that the business model was being built alongside it. That meant we often had to think outside of the actual project, as any bigger business decision could affect design approach and the other way around.

How did this affect the design process?

Our PO made it a really nice experience, all the thinking around design, going through the research, flows, sketches, and different reviews were done fairly quickly as I did not get blocked by the PO not being available. She sat opposite me and by asking quick questions about when could we review design outcomes I was able to continue my work with no problems. Even later on, when we got into the actual design, it was very easy to quickly review work in progress.

Being open about the design progress and reviewing everything on a daily basis had a good effect. What happened when the design review did not go well, you ask? Having the PO sitting next to me brings an added sense of awareness about how to manage the challenges. As this was a different experience I’ve learnt how to push myself outside of my comfort zone and try new approaches.

How did this affect other disciplines?

As we do rapid prototyping, it’s been crucial for all disciplines to have this kind of access to our client. Here are some observations from my colleagues:

As a project manager, it’s all too easy to relapse into “project thinking”, having the product owner co-located was a constant and welcome reminder to myself and the team that we were working on a product not a project with a finite deadline.
Personally, I found working closely with the client truly liberating. Activities that I occasionally dread i.e. giving budget updates were a collaborative affair. We would meet weekly to review the backlog and budget, look at the current spend and forecast remaining spend. It felt like we were in this together. I would always opt for a co-located product owner as I believe it delivers better products.
  • Holly Davis, former DPM at White October
Practically speaking, the presence of the PO was a real benefit. I noticed this most in the fact that I could get quick answers to questions. This is a particular benefit on a rapid-prototyping project, where we don’t use Acceptance Criteria.
The second major benefit was the potential for ad-hoc quick discussions about approach, functionality or issues. Being able to have these discussions in a quick across-the-desk chat saved time — and doing them face-to-face made the discussions run more smoothly, too.
And there were plenty of less tangible benefits too: I found that having an on-site Product Owner really helped with team cohesion, it raised the profile of the project within the company (so it felt more rewarding to work on, and we had fewer distractions) and it was fun!
  • Sam Partington, Backend developer at White October

Main takeaways

  • Quick responses, therefore nobody gets blocked
  • Open about issues and concerns
  • Great working experience as sitting all together, including the PO, helped to build a very close and passionate project team

Yes, I was a little bit skeptical about working with the Product Owner this way. I could see lots of opportunities and challenges at the same time. However, there is something nice about having the team together this way and the final product can really benefit.

What is your experience of this kind of arrangement?