Successfully working with a remote product owner


In today’s connected world, your client is rarely next door if even they are on the same continent as you!

In fact, with the rapid rise of the gig economy, the scrum master, development team and product owner may all be on different continents.

For the team, this is obviously a challenge. After all, you need your product owner to prioritise and guide development activities.

In this entry, we are going to be looking at some of the things that the PO can do to ensure that they are successful in their role even whilst being remote.

Out of sight, out of mind

Humans have an affinity to activities that physically engage them. Working on a project where the only contact with the other person is through screens is not natural, at least not from the perspective of our roots in the Savannah.

It is thus very easy for the PO to invest their energies in more immediate teams or even just their local friends at the pub.

To be successful, the remote PO must be mindful of this effect and constantly recommit to being engaged in the project.

Trust is the key

Rapport and trust are the drivers of all successful teams. Without it, the team would spend too much time bickering over trivialities.

As the Arbinger Institute put in Leadership and self-deception

No matter what we are doing on the outside people primarily respond to what we feel about them on the inside

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking of your remote team as somehow less superior or skilled because well, they are far.

Even at a distance, this sentiment will be registered.

It is thus important for the PO to ensure not only that his attitude is one of camaraderie but to engage with the team as much possible even in non-core work activities. Perhaps check into slack’s #random channel every once in a while.

Let’s quickly jump into a call

I normally don’t like long business calls. They are uncomfortable to sit through, I have problems hearing what is being said and God help us if the connection is poor.

Still, compromises must be made. The bandwidth provided by even a shaky call is far more than anything that email can provide.

The PO thus must commit to remain available to the team. Sometimes this may mean working after or before their usual work hours. This sucks, the only saving grace I would say is that sacrifice deepens commitment.

I will get back to you

Ok, so calls are not always an option. In this instances, it’s useful for the PO to at least be responsive on email.

Yes, I know our inboxes are flooded, but the commitment to the project means that the PO gives priority to his development team queries.

This should also be done within a reasonable time frame. A response received three days later is a guaranteed flow killer!

Have you ever worked with a remote product owner in the past? Talk to me in the comment section below or on my twitter @jchex


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Software Project Manager