A recent discussion on linkedin was started based on the question: Should teams talk directly with users or customers?
It provoked me to write the long response below.
“What do you mean by customer? Do you mean user? Sponsor? Another manager?
The Product Owner (PO) should be representing the various stakeholders for the system being built. The PO should also be creating alignment among the team and the stakeholders as to what needs to be accomplished in the release. This is a balancing act between the various needs, business and technical. The PO is not an information hub, everything doesn’t have to go through the PO. A good PO creates alignment around the vision and the solution, and steers based on their ongoing learning and subject matter expertise.
So I’d split my response into the stakeholder groups:
In general it is a good idea for a Scrum team members to talk to users. As Geir Amjso mentioned, the PO can become a bottleneck if they try to control all information. Also their maybe some nuance that a user can provide that will help a developer understand the problem more clearly. This conversation is framed in the context of a sprint and is about clarification and understanding to implement the solution.
Another benefit of having users and developers interact is that spark of innovation. Innovation happens when people with tools and techniques really start to understand a problem. Users sitting down with developers creates empathy and helps teams become motivated to provide pain relief or innovations that surprise or delight.
Not a good idea without the PO around. The sponsor is usually more concerned with the high level issues and the politics/expectation management for the product/project. The sponsors should engage the PO, and if they are going around them to the team, there is something else going on.
For other managers:
It depends. It may make sense if there are dependencies with other teams/vendors and the team is managing those issues within the sprint. It may also be an end run around the PO to get work done that is not planned in the sprint. In this case the team should refer them to the PO.
Scrum does specify meetings where interactions between teams and customers are more formal. However Scrum says nothing about restricting communications to the Scrum meetings. If communications are restricted to these meetings only the team will be slower and have less opportunities to learn. As a Scrummaster the goal is to get great software developed and do it with the highest level of engagement from all parties. This means there are lots of communications that should happen on an ongoing basis between all members of the project community. A Scrummaster needs to enable work to flow from request to working software, and this involves maintaining the flow of information. Will their be deviation? Sure, however the Scrummaster is there to detect when the team or the stakeholders are getting off track (i.e. adding scope, changing direction, etc.) and help them stay on track.
Sure you can talk to the team! Take a seat!