Remove Proxies to People

In all cases, try and deal with the primary source of information. Do not rely exclusively on proxies to people: replace or augment or augment proxies with direct involvement whenever possible to get better overall communication. You may be surprised at how many “proxies” you currently rely on.

Pain Points

  • Despite adding in multiple layers of subject matter experts, teams still build the wrong things
  • Requirements take months or longer to generate
  • Teams complain about the scarcity of information in the work they’re trying to complete
  • Development and QA teams constantly feud over what a particular requirement means and how it should be implemented
  • Developers are told what to do, and never seem to do the right thing


  • Direct access to the information source enables faster and better decisions
  • Direct access to users enables teams to understand how the software works, how it’s broken, and what value to deliver
  • Better Information Flow means faster access and less interpreted/misunderstood information
  • Information power brokers are pushed aside and real work can progress


  • Developers have full, unfettered access to product users (Major Boost)
  • Team has full, unfettered access to managers and executives when needed (Significant Boost)
  • Executives have full, unfettered access to team when needed (see TeamWideInteruption) (Significant Boost)
  • Team has only occasional access to managers and executives when needed (Setback)
  • Developers have occasional access to product users (Setback)
  • Use schedule or budget alone to rate product/project/organization quality (Significant Setback)
  • Team has no access to managers or executives when needed (Significant Setback)
  • Executives rely on managers instead of communicating with the team when needed (see TeamWideInteruption) (Disaster)
  • Developers have no access to product users (Disaster)


✓ Critical ❑ Helpful ❑ Experimental

Adoption Experiment

First steps to create this habit:


  1. Take an inventory, try and identify the proxies you currently use (See below)
  2. Ask others for help finding additional proxies you may not have thought of


  1. Prioritize your identified proxies based upon their impact or their importance
  2. Start going through your proxies one at a time, and find ways to eliminate the proxy in favor of a relationship with the person or people represented by the proxy 1

Evaluate Feedback

  1. How did you do? If you did this well, your information should be clearer and you should have a more accurate picture of where you are in relation to your goals

What does proxy mean?

A proxy substitutes for the original. For example:

  • An analyst is a proxy for a user
  • A manager is a proxy for an executive
  • A manager is a proxy for development team members
  • An estimate is a proxy for learning
  • Story points are proxies for user value
  • A Jira ticket is a proxy for a conversation between developers and users
  • A User Story is a proxy for user needs
  • A certification is a proxy for competency
  • Velocity is a proxy for value produced by a team

Proxies provide convenience

Designate someone in the company to represent the user’s needs and ask them what provides value. This removes the inconvenience of developers leaving their desk and learning how the product makes users’ work and lives better.

Write a work ticket that completely describes the work that needs to be done. A wonderful idea. However Ziv’s Law states

Software development is unpredictable and the documented artifacts such as specifications and requirements will never be fully understood.

Proxies come with a cost

Proxies can be damaging and costly in many ways. The two most important are Information Degradation and Delivery Delays.

  1. Information degradation

“The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” attributed to George Bernard Shaw

You will experience information loss by relying on the proxy. Information that is not lost gets permuted, altering its meaning. The classic party game “Telephone” also known as Chinese Whispers demonstrates how this happens.

  1. Delivery delays

Information hand-offs also add delay to delivery time. Each hand off requires time to go from person to person, or worse person to ticket to person. The work is not complete until the user gets value from using the feature.

So remove proxies

In the GROWS Method®, development teams work directly with users. Product specialists that collect and filter information, cannot replace direct user involvement and the valuable feedback it provides.

Team members can take turns going into the field and shadowing users as they perform actual work. Key users answer questions about work flows. When developers and QA disagree about something, users provide the answer.

Use VisualizeProgress to track value delivery.

Do a Gemba walk and learn what really happens in your delivery organization.

Repeat the Adoption Experiment above at least once a quarter. What else can you streamline? What proxies can you remove?

Warning Signs

  • No one on your teams has ever met a user
  • No one on your team has talked to a user in the last month
  • A user has never attended your team’s demos (even virtually)
  • All user contact is forbidden and information is routed through a specific set of proxies
  • Teams complain about not getting information when they need it
  • Teams have no idea how users work with the product

How To Fail Spectacularly

  • Relying on spreadsheets and reports instead of person-to-person communication
  • Hiding developers from users, and vice-versa
  • Setting up a customer feedback program, then hiding the results
  • Polling users for feedback, then ignoring the results

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  1. Recall the first item from the Agile Manifesto, “People and Interactions over Processes and Tools.” 

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