The Product Owner knows the business and the market, the users' requirements, et cetera. It is therefore only logical that the PO should be someone from the client side, whether or not assisted by an experienced PO from the agency side. Or not quite...
Based on my practical experience, there are some considerations that you'd better take into account when faced with the choice between a client-side PO or an agency-side PO.
- If the challenge is not so much at product level but mainly at process level (e.g. due to the complexity of several small projects at the same time), agency-side PO is always preferred. Process responsibility should not lie with the client;
- By placing the creation process entirely with agency, there is never any discussion about process responsibility;
- Agile has no hierarchy but that equality is at risk if the PO comes from the organisation that also pays the invoices;
- The PO role is part of the scrum team - and participant in retrospective - but team members are less likely to speak up if the client is there. Trust is the basis of Scrum;
- The customer knows the product best but also quickly suffers from tunnel vision. He knows it all, which also often leaves the user out of the picture. A powerful PO is a master at the interplay between divergence and convergence, at solving the right problem. This is precisely why, in the Design Thinking brief, the problem the customer sees (and the possible solution direction) is only one of the frames;
- The PO represents the stakeholders, including the customer. A PO on the client side has a history and does not always have full support in its own organisation;
- A PO on agency side is familiar with the culture of the development team and will have a cultural match with it. Under pressure of the deadline and/or disappointing results, the client-side PO will quickly put on the client hat (the payer decides);
- The organisation of the PO on the client's side does not always work according to the mindset - certainly in traditional sectors there is still plenty of 'waterfall' work, even in innovation - and is not always familiar with Scrum. This runs the risk of the PO filling his/her role as a classic project leader or manager;
- The PO protects the development team from the customer so that they can work focused on the product requirements dragged into the sprint. That role is tricky if you are the customer yourself;
- A PO is dedicatedly available to the development team and sits at the Agile 'Individuals & interactions' distance. That is not always feasible for the customer-side PO;
- You learn the PO role by doing flight hours. Dedication and focus on the role. This speaks in favour of the agency-side PO.
Have fun scrumming!
Gerjon | Scrum master at Dolphiq
N.B. In the interdisciplinary team (which LSD is a fan of, especially for design thinking teams), the customer is represented, but as an equal member of the development team and not in the role of project manager or product owner.