I’m sure there’s a formula out there that says how much time a good PO should spend with the customer. My feeling is that it should be as often as possible, when there is a question, or when you have something to show. Gaining their trust and understanding is critical in an agile delivery, they have to subscribe to the process and way you’re doing things, or you’ll spend valuable time explaining or arguing about those things. Educating them is a tremendous help and though I have had difficult starts with some customers that are transitioning, they do eventually get on board and become your biggest fans.
- Speak the language – When you explain a concept to a customer, they light up and repeat it, they put their own spin on it. Two great examples: 1. Done-Done 2. We can come back to it
- Value – Their focus is on what’s most important, most valuable to them or their clients.
- Feedback – They are responsive to testing/providing feedback early and often during a release.
- Learning – New ideas are generated and added to the backlog with them.
- Pruning – Old ideas are removed or changed as needed, they understand it’s a way off or not worth doing.
- Solve Problems – Their focus is on the problem they are trying to solve, how will it make their life better.
- POC – They call you directly to ask for your help, opinion, suggestions.
- Tradition – They relapse into their old models of delivery and interaction, including not responding unless it’s in a status call ( and if they insist on having status calls).
- Phases – They don’t attend the demos and are not interested in giving feedback before a “testing phase” finishes.
- All or nothing – A mentality that they must have 100% of what they asked for or they can’t be bothered to look at it.
- The PLAN – They keep referring to a @#$! plan that somebody else put together 6 months ago, bonus points if they printed and mounted it for all to see or carved it in stone.
- Decisions – They are constantly changing their minds, like every day. If they can’t pick a somewhat constant direction to head in then you don’t have a moving target, you have chaos.
- Control – If they direct comments back at someone other than you, such as the IT management, or individual team members. This means that they are not interested/comfortable communicating with you and want a middle man or direct control.
- Documentation – Unwilling to negotiate, whatever was written and decided long ago is how it should be done. More focus is on the document than the best solution.
I believe the real difference maker is if the client wants to be involved at a good level or not. If they are too much in the weeds or too removed from engaging with the team then the product or project will surely suffer. A great PO can help eliminate some of that risk by truly understanding why the customer wants this in the first place and making those decisions that a client will not. It’s not the same has having a good customer though. They are a great help.