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Distributed Team in Different Timezone and Product Ownership

How do you work with a remote product owner who is in a different time zone with very little overlap of normal working hours?

How do you work with a remote product owner who is in a different time zone with very little overlap of normal working hours?

An agile puritan would have a simple answer – Don’t.

There is an underlying assumption behind this statement. The assumption is that the product owner can provide an instant clarification and decision to any of the following types of questions:

  1. About the domain of the problem
  2. About the current process and workflow
  3. About how the software is expected to work
  4. About the business logic that needs to be implemented
  5. About the usability of the software

In real life is it possible for the product owner to provide immediate answer to all these types of question?

For questions of the type (1) and (2) it is possible. For other types of question it is possible only for small projects.

Enterprise Scale Real Life Problem
To be able to answer the types of question (3) and (4) the product owner need to have a complete mental picture of how the proposed software should work, have a complete picture of the proposed workflow and have a thorough understanding of the business process and logic.

Question type (5) cannot be answered without a formal usability test. In fact you may need a usability expert to provide that advice.

In short, many questions of the type (3), (4) and (5) requires deliberation, required consultation with other subject mater experts and with specialists.

Once you reconcile to this fact then you will realize that remote product owner may not be that much of productivity killer.

It can be done!

The good news is that people have tried and successfully done it with little bit (but not too much) of productivity loss.

  1. If there is no overlapping working hour then adjust the working hour to have an overlap.
  2. Have a proxy product owner who is in the same location as the development team.
  3. Use communication and collaboration tool to resolve issues.

In the world of ubiquitous communication and collaboration, it is naive to think that having a remote product owner in not feasible.

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Why it is a bad idea:

How it can be made to work:

More Stories By Udayan Banerjee

Udayan Banerjee is CTO at NIIT Technologies Ltd, an IT industry veteran with more than 30 years' experience. He blogs at http://setandbma.wordpress.com.
The blog focuses on emerging technologies like cloud computing, mobile computing, social media aka web 2.0 etc. It also contains stuff about agile methodology and trends in architecture. It is a world view seen through the lens of a software service provider based out of Bangalore and serving clients across the world. The focus is mostly on...

  • Keep the hype out and project a realistic picture
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