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Is the Product Owner the Product Manager?

Published on 16th March 2010 2 min read

This blog post explores the differences between working as a product manager and playing the product owner role.

“The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product (…),” states the Scrum Guide. This sounds like a core product management responsibility to me.  So what’s the difference between a product manager and a product owner?

Working as the product owner implies taking on many product management responsibilities including understanding the market, describing product functionality, and preparing the product launch. This makes product managers well suited to play this new role. But a product owner is more than just a re-branded product manager: Product owners tend to take on a wider range of duties, which makes the role multi-faceted and challenging. The following formula captures this insight:

Product Owner = Product Manager + x

My experience suggests that the x above comprises additional strategic duties including envisioning the product and managing the product roadmap as well as further tactical ones, such as collaborating with the development team throughout the development effort, writing user stories, carrying out release planning, and managing stakeholders. Consequently, product owners often require more authority and more focus to do their job well. Note that product ownership is teamwork in Scrum: Requirements are no longer identified and described by one person. Product owner, ScrumMaster and team collaborate on a regular basis to groom the product backlog.

Working as a first-time product owner is hence a new experience and a challenge. The right training and coaching measures can help product owners get up to speed faster. “Early immersion and training of the product owners in agile principles, product backlog creation, user story design and estimation and planning is key to the success of any agile team. Also, beyond initial training, continuous product owner coaching throughout the rollout is necessary to ingrain the new process into the culture,” write Fry and Greene about their experience at Salesforce.com in their article “Large Scale Agile Transformation in an On-Demand World.”

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7 Comments

  • devaux xavier says:

    Dear all
    I’m practicing Scrum for 2 years now which may seems rather short, but allows to go through as many agile projects than in over 15 years of waterfall projects.
    I’m convinced both roles overlap significantly, but none includes the other.
    I would say : PO = 80/90%PM + 20/10% else
    and PM = 80/90%PO + 20/10% else
    80/90 just means “significantly” the same
    20/10just means “a bit of” something else
    Part of the PM job is done by the delivery team when they decide who is doing what and in which order for example
    And part of the PM job very often remains out of the scrum team for many enterprise valuable and less valuable reasons.

  • John Peltier says:

    I also vote for swapping the terms. 🙂 In this model, the product management responsibilities have been blended with backlog management duties to create the product owner role within the agile team, but often in a commercial software company, this is too much work for one person. In my view, the agile product owner manages the backlog while the market facing product manager interfaces with the rest of the business (and most often, customers).

    • Hi John, Thanks for your comment. I find it helpful to consider where the product owner role originates from and for which context it was originally defined, and what happens to product ownership as the product grows and develops. Scrum has the concept of a *single* product owner, which I find useful at least until product market fit has been achieved.

      But when the product grows, ownership has to be shared, and you have kindly provided one option. I have written about two other options here: http://www.romanpichler.com/blog/scaling-the-product-owner/

      Does this make sense?

  • CM says:

    PM Hut/Johanna, it really could not be the case where Product Manager = Product Owner + 1 (or x, in keeping with Roman’s formula) for the simple reason that not every Product Manager is a Product Owner (in the Scrum sense). Scrum only defines the Product Owner role in the context of a Scrum team; outside of the context of the team, s/he may have a myriad or responsibilities. So, though the use of a simple formula cannot capture the full meaning of what a Product Owner is, I believe Roman’s formulation has the terms on the right side of the equation :-).

  • PM Hut says:

    I always felt it was the other way around, where Product Manager = Product Owner + 1.

    In any case I believe that the role of the Product Manager in Agile is always confused with that of the Product Manager in waterfall (traditional) projects.

    In any case, I have published an article discussing the situation where you have no product owner. I hope you’ll have the chance to read it!

    • Hi Johanna, As I explain in my post, I view the product owner role as broader than the product manager’s. For an overview of what I consider as the product owner duties, please have a look at: http://www.romanpichler.com/blog/one-page-product-owner/ My experience working with product managers in a traditional setting suggests that the individuals rarely collaborate closely with the team during the actual development of the product. They rather rejoin the project towards its end to prepare the product launch. But you are certainly right to point out that the role of a product manager in an agile context differs from how the role is applied traditionally.

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  • devaux xavier says:

    Dear all
    I’m practicing Scrum for 2 years now which may seems rather short, but allows to go through as many agile projects than in over 15 years of waterfall projects.
    I’m convinced both roles overlap significantly, but none includes the other.
    I would say : PO = 80/90%PM + 20/10% else
    and PM = 80/90%PO + 20/10% else
    80/90 just means “significantly” the same
    20/10just means “a bit of” something else
    Part of the PM job is done by the delivery team when they decide who is doing what and in which order for example
    And part of the PM job very often remains out of the scrum team for many enterprise valuable and less valuable reasons.

  • John Peltier says:

    I also vote for swapping the terms. 🙂 In this model, the product management responsibilities have been blended with backlog management duties to create the product owner role within the agile team, but often in a commercial software company, this is too much work for one person. In my view, the agile product owner manages the backlog while the market facing product manager interfaces with the rest of the business (and most often, customers).

    • Hi John, Thanks for your comment. I find it helpful to consider where the product owner role originates from and for which context it was originally defined, and what happens to product ownership as the product grows and develops. Scrum has the concept of a *single* product owner, which I find useful at least until product market fit has been achieved.

      But when the product grows, ownership has to be shared, and you have kindly provided one option. I have written about two other options here: http://www.romanpichler.com/blog/scaling-the-product-owner/

      Does this make sense?

  • CM says:

    PM Hut/Johanna, it really could not be the case where Product Manager = Product Owner + 1 (or x, in keeping with Roman’s formula) for the simple reason that not every Product Manager is a Product Owner (in the Scrum sense). Scrum only defines the Product Owner role in the context of a Scrum team; outside of the context of the team, s/he may have a myriad or responsibilities. So, though the use of a simple formula cannot capture the full meaning of what a Product Owner is, I believe Roman’s formulation has the terms on the right side of the equation :-).

  • PM Hut says:

    I always felt it was the other way around, where Product Manager = Product Owner + 1.

    In any case I believe that the role of the Product Manager in Agile is always confused with that of the Product Manager in waterfall (traditional) projects.

    In any case, I have published an article discussing the situation where you have no product owner. I hope you’ll have the chance to read it!

    • Hi Johanna, As I explain in my post, I view the product owner role as broader than the product manager’s. For an overview of what I consider as the product owner duties, please have a look at: http://www.romanpichler.com/blog/one-page-product-owner/ My experience working with product managers in a traditional setting suggests that the individuals rarely collaborate closely with the team during the actual development of the product. They rather rejoin the project towards its end to prepare the product launch. But you are certainly right to point out that the role of a product manager in an agile context differs from how the role is applied traditionally.

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