Product Manager vs. Product Owner: Get Outside The Walls

Product Manager vs. Product Owner: Get Outside The Walls

Product Manager vs. Product Owner: Get Outside The Walls

Why all of the confusion?

I have seen a lot of confusion between the roles of a Product Owner from that of a Product Manager. Since a lot of Product Managers are Product Owners in their respective scrums, the traditional view of a product owner seems to have clouded the true essence of what it takes to be a Product Manager. To understand this we have to review the history of the PO role.

The role of the Product Owner started to appear in the 90’s. During this time, two software development teams stumbled upon the concept of self-organizing teams, which were focused on creating working software in small batches for their clients. In 1995, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber, representatives of the two teams presented the structured form of this concept to the general public, calling it Scrum. This led to a publication being made in 2001 which presented the subject as an, ‘…Agile Software Development with Scrum.’ They defined the Product Owner as the voice of the business and also provided some key expectations that came with such a proclamation. Generally, the main responsibilities of the PO were to answer business questions, clarify requirements, create user stories, and have full ownership of the product backlog.

Product owners live inside the walls of the business

This however raised some issues of concerns as Product Managers applied too much focus on these roles and started to become internally focused with the day to day needs of representing the business. Since Product Owners often tend to have strong internal focus and most of their roles are biased towards the business users at times, they forego their main responsibility of representing the customer. Because Product Owners are required to be present for inquiries about business needs, they often don’t have time to focus on customers. Instead of conducting user studies, interviewing customers, and understanding the industry, product owners find themselves buried in their explicit responsibilities of maintaining the backlog, creating and curating user stories as well as facilitating discussions with internal stakeholders.

Product Managers step out of the business

On the other hand product managers usually tend to have an external focus, absorbing and understanding the industry and competition. because of this external focus, they are more suitable in developing the product in terms of customer needs. Most product managers are known to interact actively with their clients, spending time outside the business premises in order to learn directly from customers to iterate the product to fit their needs.

A PM is a PO but a PO is not always a PM

In all these facets it appears that product ownership seems to be a component of product management. It is good to note that the product owner will be internally focused but the product manager will handle external factors that will make the product improve. Generally, a PO will build a product to the requirements of business users and their interpretations of customer needs while a good PM will interact with the industry, competitors, and directly with the customer to formulate user needs. Good PMs have a strong understanding of the internal needs of the business but leverage the external needs of customers to define business problems and find solutions to the problems.

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