In many organizations transitioning to Agile, there are challenges when it comes to finding and training people to be Product Owners, particularly when the transition is more of an IT initiative than a company initiative. Too often organizations rely on Product Owner proxies because the right people are overworked or distant from the team, and those barriers are not addressed. A proxy person is not empowered, and the effects will be obvious with the development team and quite possibly the product itself.
Recently I've seen two examples at different organizations where the rightful Product Owner emerged. The development team recognized the benefits of working with this person and started collaborating with him, even though he didn't have the PO job title or role assigned to him. Team members looked to him for vision and context, included him in team meetings, and taught him about Agile and Scrum.
What makes someone right for the Product Owner role? He is responsible for maximizing the value of the product and the work of the development team. He is focused on the end user and the goals of the business. He has a good working knowledge of the product. He has a vision for the future of the product and can make intelligent decisions about it. In the two organizations I saw, individuals said they did not have enough time to be 100% dedicated Product Owners, and in both cases, those same individuals carved time in their calendars to spend with the development teams because they recognized the value in doing so. Actions speak louder than words.
Anyone could be given the title of "king," but not everyone can pull the sword from the stone--anyone can learn about a product and its vision, but not everyone can be the empowered voice of development. The Product Owner is not a requirements engineer. The Product Owner is not concerned about writing perfect user stories. The Product Owner is not a proxy.
Failure to have the right Product Owner will slow the progress of the product and adds risk to delivering what the customer wants. Long live the rightful Product Owner!