Business Stakeholders as Product Owners in Agile Teams

Mentoring new Business Stakeholders as they transition to product owner role to enhance collaboration and focus on business value

The Situation

Enterprise Solutions and Technology (EST) group within the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has over the past four years, implemented agile practices by tailoring the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) developed for large enterprises. The Agile approach emphasise customer collaboration, with business areas and agile developer teams working together to accelerate the delivery of value. The Product Owner (PO) acts as the ‘voice of the customer’ with these agile teams and initially this role was filled by system analysts within the agile teams.

A major program of work in one branch had seen that other program areas had gained great benefit from having business people embedded within the agile teams in this key agile Product Owner (PO) role and therefore wanted to move to this model.

Implementing business people as POs embedded within the agile teams would promote shared ownership of feature development and enhance  collaboration as well as provide timely answers to key issues to support decision making on how to develop the product. 

The Solution

The primary role of a PO is to represent customers’ needs to the Scrum Team and maximise value delivered through prioritising the order of items in the Product Backlog in line with their product’s goal, vision, budget, and roadmap.

ZXM coaches were involved in mentoring business stakeholders that were transitioning into the PO role. The business people were embedded in the agile teams and we worked closely with them to help them understand the role of the PO including their responsibility providing the business context of how the product is used and how the business process works and how to manage the prioritisation of the backlog to support the vision and goals for the product.

The POs were involved in a one day Product Ownership training course conducted by ZXM coaches. This gave them an understanding of the role as well as how it fitted into the scaled agile framework that was being adopted across the ATO. 

The POs from the business area also had a one-on-one coaching session each week with the ZXM coaches to help support them and brainstorm issues and clarify any questions regarding their role. We also worked closely with program leadership to provide feedback regarding progress and the implementation successes and challenges.

The Results

Over a period of 3 months, the ZXM coaches worked with the POs during their transition and the business people in these roles were able to develop their capabilities and understanding of what it takes to successfully support agile teams as a PO.

Having business people in the PO role within the agile teams provided great benefits including:

  • Timely resolution of questions, gaps and issues that arise through the design, build and testing of outcomes
  • Business gaining greater visibility and understanding of the delivery processes, outcomes and requirements to deliver outcomes
  • Assisted agile team to better gather an understanding of the products and client experiences they are trying to deliver
  • Agile teams having quicker access to business/user expertise. This will help with designing and building systems that better meet the needs of clients and business
  • Working more closely to develop a shared understanding of priorities and agile ways of working
  • Better clarity on business workflow, business rules and customer expectations 
  • Closely working with the teams every day to prevent rework, multiple handovers and duplication
  • Removing bottlenecks between business and IT 
  • Helping team and business have better transparency of progress of features

This is now seen as a preferred model to implement across the rest of the program as well as in other programs across the ATO.

Improved Collaboration

Improved collaboration between business and IT delivery teams

Improved understanding of customer experience

Agile team gained a better understanding of the products and client experiences they are delivering

Improved transparency

Improved business visibility and understanding of the delivery processes and progress of the work

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