Pick the Right Sort of Customer Proxy

Nearly every development effort will require some individual or small group to make decisions on behalf of your customer. In Agile literature, this person would be referred to as the Product Owner. In other contexts, he or she might be referred to as the product manager, or the system manager, or simply a responsible business analyst.

Whatever they are called, this person or persons has a critical role to play, since they must ultimately make important decisions about what will be deemed acceptable and desirable and necessary by the broader customer community.

This person should:

  • Be smart;
  • Get things done;
  • Be available to the development team on a daily basis;
  • Have strong trust relationships within the customer community;
  • Have good knowledge of user processes and expectations;
  • Be willing to hold strong positions on topics, but be willing to change those positions based on new data and fresh input;
  • Be comfortable making a decision, after a reasonable amount of time to gather data and other input on an issue;
  • Be able to work collaboratively with technical leadership on the project, realizing that reasonable trade-offs will be necessary, and that not all customer desires can have equal priority;
  • Be trusted by the technical team to reliably represent the customer’s interests;
  • Trust the technical team to bring appropriate technical expertise to the table when evaluating alternatives;
  • Be strongly motivated to facilitate steady forward motion on the project.

There is no surer way to cripple a project than to designate a customer proxy who lacks one or more of these critical qualities.

Next: Craft a Product Vision