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What happens when the Product Owner is at a physical distance from the Scrum team ?

For Scrum teams, the role of the Product Owner is fairly integral to that of the Scrum process. The Product Owner is expected to work closely with the Scrum team, through the entire development process. However, this gets complicated when the Scrum team is located in a far-off country such as India or China, and the Product Owner is preferred to be located in the country (or countries) that are the primary target markets (such as the United States, Japan, or the European Union). I have seen cases such as the one just described; the positioning of the team and the Product Owner both seem logical – the team is located so that costs are minimized, and the Product Owner (being the representative of Product Management) is located near the customers.
However, inspite of all this logic, one could see problems with the implementation of such an approach. In the Scrum process, especially when team members are not very experienced, there is the need for constant interaction with the Product Owner. When the Product Owner was located in the US, and the team was based in China, there were a lot of logistical issues with regard to communication. Every discussion, every meeting was required to be planned, and typically, the fastest way to ensure that your query was answered was by sending an email which was then answered by the Product Owner in their own day time.
Further, when the Product Owner was setup in a meeting with the team to go through the Prioritized Product Backlog, there was always the pressure to ensure that the entire process was as efficient as possible; which meant that the various stages of the meeting were also pre-planned. So, when the Product Owner was explaining User Stories, given the period of time overlapping both geographies, there was only a certain amount of time that was available for explaining the User Stories and answering queries. We found that this shortage of time was resulting in a number of queries being unanswered, or people being afraid to ask more than a few questions for fear of breaking the whole process (taking too much time for their questions). Such situations typically lead to a case whereby the team member is not fully clear and as a result, there can be some problems in the implementation, either because complete clarity is not available or because an assumption that was made was incorrect. This can impact the productivity of the Scrum team, and this problem may not be apparent till near the end of the Sprint.

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