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Project Management

Product Owner vs. Product Manager – do they differ and how?

date: 27 October 2020
reading time: 5 min

There is no particular need to convince anyone that the implementation of agile technology yields reasonable results. Within the current reality, agile is simply a standard. However, that does not mean, that all implementations at all times are conducted successfully. Numerous enterprises, particularly within the SMB sector, seem to neglect the issue that is key for agile work - we are talking about role distribution, with the roles not always being obvious.


Product owner and product manager – two roles

It seems, as illustrated i.a. by the statistics of Google searches, that numerous users are highly interested with the issue regarding what competencies should be displayed, and what responsibilities fulfilled by the product owner. Importantly, the queries often appear within a particular context – it seems that a difficulty in drawing full advantage from agile is the distinction between the function of a product manager and a product owner.

Based on the example data provided by Google Trends through the last five years, the popularisation of agile has not impacted the increase of awareness between PO and PM. Moreover, the attention regarding the issue is still rising.

Additionally, the queries regarding particular roles in agile are rising. In this case, one may also draw a conclusion that the existing implementations in many companies were not sufficient to draw the distinctions and scopes of competencies regarding both roles, or they would not introduce them at all. The aforementioned may simply lead to a situation where, indeed, an organisation may „demonstrate” the implementation of a trendy agile methodology, however, it is far from drawing full advantages from this implementation. It is not difficult to imagine the communication chaos and lack of organisation related to the multiplication of competencies and the ongoing process of the product manager and product owner getting into their way. How to prevent your it project from failing?


What is a product owner vs. a product manager?

Therefore, how to explain the difference between both roles in an uncomplicated manner? It is advisable to turn attention to the subject on where should the attention of both the product manager and product owner be focused. In the first case the role is primarily focused on the relation with centres beyond the organisation. It is the product manager who should focus on oversight regarding the market situation, as well as, primarily – the knowledge of the customers and their needs. The PM should primarily learn the assumptions of the customer regarding the product or particular market needs, and pass them on within the organisation. One may say, that within this aspect, he is the source of information regarding the dynamically changing external conditions and expectations of customers (obviously with particular considerations of changes within these expectations), that are afterwards transferred to the organisation.

However, one should in no way assume, that product owner and product manager are somewhat in opposition, resulting in the PO being forced to communicate the organisation operations externally. Quite the contrary, his task is to ensure the proper cooperation with the project team, as well as, quality assurance. While, in agile, the product manager acquires external information, product owner distributes them in the most possibly optimised way within the organisation, particularly, within the employees designated to participate in the process. Therefore, one cannot say about any type of parallel operations, but of the necessity to cooperate or even cross permeation of information. One may even be tempted to say that the project manager and project owner co-create one process – starting with information regarding external factors, they meet at the point, where the information must reach the members of the organisation.


What is the relationship between a PO and PM?

The aforementioned notions may display a certain hazard – on the one side, we speak of evading a situation, in which competencies are overlapping, while on the other, we speak of their mutual overlapping. It is no mistake – the relation between the product owner and the product manager, as well as, the directions of their communication is cross based. Product owner, in order to acquire valuable information from the outside, must know the team and its capabilities. Similar, product manager, must also possess the knowledge on the market situation, and the knowledge regarding the customer’s expectations, in order to communicate with project teams efficiently, ensuring the appropriate level of quality of the end product.

There’s an interesting opinion on this topic shared by Melissa Perri, experienced product manager and senior lecturer at Harvard Business School: “It’s important to have this flexibility in team size as well depending on the stage of your product. If you give a Product Manager a large scrum team’s backlog to keep filling while you are in discovery mode, they will keep that backlog filled. But, they will also be torn between keeping work flowing to the developers and trying to do the work to validate direction. As a result, neither gets done well. If you want to build products, e.g. software product development, that create value for your businesses and customers, you need good Product Management foundations in your company. If you want a career path for your people, you need to give them this foundation so they can grow into more senior roles. So remind your people they are all Product Managers. They may be playing the role of a Product Owner on a Scrum team most days, but we still need them to think like a Product Manager and validate that we are building the right things”.

Therefore, these subtle strands of connections and dependencies may be summarised by a statement, that the product manager is probing the projects, in which the organisation should involve itself, and the product owner is working with the team to develop them. Assuming such a perspective, one may speak of healthy, solid and effective relations, in compliance with the agile methodology.

What do you think?

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