I have always seen lots of debating about the roles of product manager and product owner. In most agile frameworks in high-tech software product, and for both larger companies as well as startups, the product manager communicates the voice of the customer by achieving both customer and market success. In contrast, the product owner creates, maintains and prioritizes the product backlog, creates actionable user stories for the development team, participates in scrum meetings (if the team is sprinting), answers developer’s questions as the customer / user representative, works and signs off on completed user stories acceptance criteria and lastly participates in iteration retrospectives.
That said, not all software companies work this way – in some orgs you only have product managers, in others just the product owner. So: where’s the right mix?
For larger engineering teams, some organizations decide to split the product role in two - and in that scenario, the product manager is responsible for conducting market research, validating customers, managing and foreseeing the company’s long-term vision, communicating with external stakeholders, etc. Some will describe the product manager as the CEO of the product mainly due to the front-line character of the role:
The product manager is also responsible for driving the product strategy and monitoring the whole product lifecycle starting from market research, customer adoption and enablement, all the way to product marketing, business development and sales. The product manager is also expected to know the product as well as the target market inside out.
In contrast, many organizations will have Product Owners take the role of defining user stories, managing the backlog, talking with the team about the requirements, constructing the product processes, attending all the agile meetings, communicating the validated roadmap to the PM and helping them build the roadmap/vision using internal and external feedback. In other words, the PO does all the product homework that needs to be done. As a result, they are considered as the Chief Operating Officer of the Product.
In other words, in certain organizations, the Product Owner is the customer voice of the Scrum team. This helps the developers get the right answers fast, as the PO needs to be next to the development team whenever they need them while the product manager is not necessarily much into the technical stuff since their role is more about the grand vision of the product.
What’s the right mix?
My suggestion has always been that the PM and PO should be one person, no matter the size of the organization – keeping the correct line of sight from vision to execution to data-driven iteration so that the more strategic activities of the product manager and the tactical work of the product owner are met in one person. It is hard to find resources that have all the talent and experience necessary, but in my opinion it is well worth it. In the end, the tactical decisions should reflect the overall strategy and the overall strategy is generally affected by the circumstances that the development team faces so why split the role?
Let me know what you think!
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My name's phil mora and I blog about the things I love: fitness, hacking work, tech and anything holistic.
Head of Digital Product
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