Product Manager & Product Owner, The Dynamic Duo

This perspective that the “Product Manager is the Product Owner” is ruining the roles and the effectiveness of many Product Managers in organisations that do not understand either the importance of the Product Manager role or the Agile Product Owner roles.

Importance of Focus

In the military there is a separation of the leadership team of any unit between tactical and strategic command. There is an officer who is defining their unit’s strategy based on their larger strategic objectives of the unit size above them. The non-commissioned officers (NCO’s) are there to make sure that the unit achieves them. Both levels of leadership work in partnership to achieve the same goal, but the separation of focus allows the each role to define priorities things differently.

In a well-run restaurant there is a separation of the leadership of between the front of house and the kitchen. The Head Chef is manning the pass, calling out orders and ensuring that all meals are delivered in a timely fashion to the right people at the right level of quality. The Restaurant Manager is taking bookings and is seating customers, to keep orders flowing steadily to the kitchen in a manner that should not overwhelm them. Both of these roles work together to achieve the best business outcomes.

“Product Owner”

Whether we like it or not the Scrum Methodology selected the term “Product Owner” as the development teams business and customer representative that would work directly with them to manage the priorities of the current sprint (Backlog Management) and to assist with any non-development clarifications that may need to be made.

This desire for the solution team to have a closer connection with the customer and the business is perfectly appropriate since without it the team will either build the wrong solution, or come to a standstill while a prioritisation or a decision is made somewhere else. This is exactly the purpose that the Agile Product Owner role was created for.

But the important thing to remember here is that it is a NEW role. Not an extension of the old one. It is like adding the missing link to a broken chain. Adding a specialist linking role can fix the problem but stretching and already stretched chain to fill the gap will only cause more strain or breakage elsewhere.

Product Manager + Product Owner. (A Dynamic Duo)

Brian from Aha suggest that having a separate person perform the Agile Product Owner role is a splitting of the Product Manger role. The Agile Product Owner role is a completely new and valuable professional specialisation that is necessary for the effective running of a Scrum team. The Agile Product owner must work with and communicate with the Product Manger to ensure that the strategic intent of any solution that is developed meets both the customer and business goals.

The Product Manager will explore the marketplace and the competitive environment in search of the next opportunity to deliver value to a selected Target Market and the business.

The Product Owner does not need to select a Target Market but they do need to understand them, their goals and the context in which both current and future solutions are being applied.

The Product Manager needs to make strategic trade-offs around which products/features to keep and which ones to retire. The need to develop and understand the cost benefit and opportunity trade-offs of every decision.

The Product Owner does not need to determine or champion the intended return on investment of the solution, but they will be bound to deliver customer and business value within budgeted costs.

Hire a Professional

If you are planning a home renovation it may be tempting to get the architect (High level view) to stay on and help run the project and work with the various contractors to do the structural building, lights, plumbing, and painting (etc). But you don’t do that do you. It is not because you don’t want to split the role but because the role of a building site manager and an Architect are completely different roles.

The same applies to the difference between a Product Manager and an Agile Product Owner. These are both vital professional roles in any organisation (agile or otherwise). But don’t think for a second that you can save money by hiring one person to do both. Get professionals that specialise in each role AND ensure that they work together members of a team (because they are) and fire them both if they don’t.

Bonus Resources:

Product Management Training