Agile Product Manager vs. Product Owner: How the Roles Differ

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Agile Product Manager vs. Product Owner: How the Roles Differ

Agile Product Manager vs. Product Owner: How the Roles Differ

By Chris Daily

Are you a leader looking to improve your team's productivity? The agile framework for planning your product launches can take your productivity to the next level.

But for many teams, understanding the roles each team member must play can be confusing. The product management role of the product manager often gets confused with the role of the product owner. Don't worry, we're going to break it down for you so that you can help your scrum team to deliver top-notch products at break-neck speeds.

Keep reading to learn more about the agile framework, and the difference between agile product manager vs product owner. When everyone knows the role they must play your team can use these principles to hit your company KPIs every time.


Agile Roles and Responsibilities

Within the agile process, there are several key roles within the team. Unfortunately, these can become confusing, especially when job roles and descriptions become are not clear.

These roles include:

  • Scrum master

  • Product owner

  • Development team

Notice that there is no product manager role. That doesn't mean that product managers don't play a role. In fact, product management and a great product manager are key in decision making and critical for agile teams to be successful.

The most important thing to remember with agile roles is that they are not indicative of any particular team member's job description. Within each sprint, anyone can play any of the agile roles.

Agile teams are self-organizing allowing them to adapt to the ever-changing needs of delivering products.  Agile managers see their role shift from taskmaster to coach.  A good agile manager will provide opportunities suitable for the different team members with different projects based on their skills, strengths, and personal job goals.  As a coach and servant leader, the manager will empower team members by supporting and teaching team members as they grow.

Meeting with your team members on a regular basis, a trusting environment forms where both agile managers and team members can share and receive feedback towards their personal goals.  In addition, agile managers help team members achieve their goals by aligning them with projects and roles that constantly provide opportunities for growth.  Companies who embrace the entire agile process and mindset see their employee morale boost significantly.

The scrum master is the protector of the team and an evangelist of the Agile mindset with a deep understanding of the Scrum Framework. The product owner is responsible for the product backlog, ensuring the highest priority items are broken down into chunks of functionality that are small enough to be completed in a two week period.  Both the PO and Scrum master roles often are confused with the traditional project manager role and can be tempting for leaders to assign them to themselves.

With a self-organizing team, team members must be allowed to organize themselves to get the work complete. This gives employees a sense of belonging and control, it also increases their job satisfaction and overall morale.

Each agile sprint needs a development team to develop the product to completion. The team should be cross-functional and include all the skills required to complete the job.  The team may include members from a variety of departments and job descriptions. Being a member of a cross-functional team, it is important for an individual to contribute their skills and strengths in the effort for the team to evolve into a high performance team while delivering a valuable working product.


Agile Product Managers vs Product Owners

Product managers and Product owners are often referred to as product management. As mentioned earlier, the product owners are responsible for the product backlog.  The product owner focuses on ensuring the product backlog is ordered and can be consumed by the Scrum team. Based on feedback from a variety of stakeholders, the product owner determines the priority of the product backlog items for the team to work on and place those items (with acceptance criteria) in the sprint team backlog.  The team defines the steps required, when each step will happen, and who will do it. The self-organizing team keeps itself focused and on track to complete the work by the end of the iteration.

The product owner should be available to the scrum team on a frequent basis throughout the iteration.  The product owner clarifies confusion, answers questions, solves problems and collaborates on the scope as required.

In contrast, the product manager role is the liaison between the internal development team (including the product owner) and the external world. The product manager meet with the sales team, the product users, and other stakeholders who might be affected by the new product being developed. The product managers are optional at many of the events or stand-ups but are not required at all of them.  Many product managers collaborate with product owners to define product features and participate in the product development process. In the product owner role of supporting the team, the product owner's presence should be apparent at all the events.

The product owner is focused on the product backlog, the team, and achieving the sprint goal. The product manager is focused on the customer needs and the overall market for the product being developed.

As product management, the product owner and the product manager form a synergistic relationship that relies on each other to stay focused in their own lane. In doing this, the product owner and the product manager keep the product moving forward towards completion and launch.

To liberally use the quote popularized by Stephen Covey, the product owner ensures that the team reaches the top of the ladder and completes the project. While the product manager is responsible for ensuring that the ladder is leaning against the right wall.


How To Use These to Hit Your Goals

When these two roles work together your agile teams will see exponential growth and productivity. You will see many successful product launches and your company will reach your overall goals and objectives.

As the adoption of agile has grown over the last twenty years, scrum and agile have been applied to more than software development. Scrum teams have been formed to decentralize decision making and solve problems for a variety of industries and domains. Product owners and product managers perform similar roles, even though the product might be different.

Within the agile framework, it can be difficult to know who is in charge. with no one appearing to have direct authority. But, in true agile ideology, every individual handles defining their own functions and executions.

Looking at the big picture, each of the roles has its own domain over which they are in charge. Specifically, the product manager is the large strategist ensuring that there is a market for the product being developed. They work with the consumers to ensure that the product fills a need and will do well when launched to market.

Within each individual scrum team, the product owner is responsible for ensuring that the product backlog items are prioritized and clearly defined. Once the product owner determines the priorities within the team backlog, the developers choose which product backlog items they can work on, understand what is required based on acceptance criteria, and how they will complete the activities for the work to be completed.  They determine this based on their own schedule, skills, and personal development goals.  By the scrum team engaging in the process to select what and how the work is to be completed, the team is accountable for the completion of the work.

By giving each person autonomy to determine their contribution the team sees greater accountability. Product ownership improves both morale and productivity.

Finally, the scrum master is responsible for the agile process itself. Their focus is on the scrum process and to limit distractions within the sprint itself. They also make sure the definition of done is upheld and new responsibilities are not added. Finally, they coach the team members in their day to day activities to ensure progress towards completion.

While the scrum master is a true expert on the agile and scrum framework, the entire team is encouraged to complete agile training. This ensures everyone knows their roles and how they can best complete their goals.


Know Your Roles to Achieve Your Goals

Additionally, when you encourage those on your team from a variety of job descriptions across your company you will see an increase in job satisfaction and company morale. You will allow your team to lean into their strengths and use their unique skills to move products forward from idea to creation to production.

Stop wondering who is supposed to complete what parts of the agile process. Maximize your outcomes by taking advantage of your product management capabilities. When it comes to comparing the agile product manager vs product owner, you now know who is responsible for what components.

To better educate your entire team, contact us today. We will work with you to ensure everyone knows the various roles on a scrum team. And, your product manager and product owner roles will know how to ensure responsibility and accountability across the entire team.

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