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Product Manager Vs Product Owner

Almost every Product Development Company (and Service industry as well) has these two roles co-exist: Product Owner and Product Manager. People often get confused with these two roles. I am trying to get some clarity with these two roles in this article. 

First of all, Scrum does not recognize the role “Product Manager”, it is more of a designation, whereas “Product Owner” is a role. Ah, do you remember the difference between the chicken and pig, the scrum joke? Product owner is more of a pig who is committed whereas the Product manager is a chicken, who is involved. Scrum expects the Product owner to be a sole accountable person for the Product to have end-to-end Product delivery and realizing the return on investment. To know more about the Product owner role, rights, characteristics and responsibilities; visit our recent article “Scrum Product Owner’s characteristics, Rights and Responsibilities”. 

Usually, in a Scrum Product/Project the Product owner is expected to take care of the “WHAT” part of the Product that includes:

  • What is the right product to solve the customer problem?
  • What is the product vision?
  • What are the right features to address the customer’s problem?
  • How the Product should grow over time (Roadmap)?
  • What is the right order to develop those features?
  • When to release the product increment to end users?
  • Market research
  • User research
  • Competitor product analysis

In the list of above responsibilities, few of them belong to “Product Discovery” and the rest belong to “Product Delivery”. In order to achieve all the above, the Product owner should have “T” shaped skills. The vertical skill is the “product specific” which cannot be transferred to different products (example: Domain knowledge). The horizontal skills are “generic skills” which can be transferred to different products (example: Vision creation, Roadmapping, Prioritization techniques). Also, in order to deliver successful products, a Product owner should have 4 categories of experience and knowledge. They are: Product management, Project management, Product Leadership, Business analysis.

Now the question comes here is, the “Size” of the Product being developed. If the Product is small or medium sized, and the Product owner is “T” shaped skilled and also has knowledge and experience in all the 4 areas mentioned above, then one Product owner can take end to end responsibility of the Product. However, if the size of the Product is too large and/or the Product owner does not have “T” shaped skills and the experience and knowledge of the 4 areas, then organizations may introduce “Product Manager” in addition to the Product owner. When a Product has both a Product Owner and Product Manager, they both should have a clear understanding on what is the split of responsibilities between both of them and who is holding the accountability of the Product. Accordingly they can take up the responsibilities. In this case, usually the PRoduct Manager takes care of the external responsibilities whereas the Product owner takes care of the internal responsibilities. Below picture provides a differentiation of this scenario.

To conclude, Product owner is a role and Product manager is a title (designation). Scrum Product owner is accountable for end to end Product (discovery to delivery). As needed, organizations may introduce Product Managers in Product Development. It is important to clearly define the responsibilities between Product owner and Product manager and define the accountability with one of them clearly.

July 23, 2020
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