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The “new generation project manager”

This is a rather lame description of the Product Owner role. Still, it fits what happens in a lot of companies.

The “Product Owner” gathers the business requirements, and then words or completes the functional specifications. Finally she pushes them to the development team and makes sure that everything follows through. Incidentally she also do a final validation of the work to make sure that both tech and business guys understood each other.

This kind of Product Owner is unmistakably a project manager in disguise.

You are saying it like it’s wrong. Is it?

Does that mean that we can call this kind of Product Owner in contradiction with the Product Owner role as defined in the Scrum Guide?

Well, maybe not. As long as she is not interfering with the development team’s self-organization, we could say that this Product Owner behavior is compatible with the Scrum Guide.

Still, having said that, having a much stronger focus on the value of the backlog items would be very welcome…

The Product Manager

What’s the difference between Product Owner and Product Manager?

This is an old and common question and yet, the answer is hard to find… For this simple reason that there’s not really any difference!

  • Product Owner is a term that have been coined by the Scrum framework.
  • Reading the Scrum Guide will reveal that ideally the team should handle pretty much everything that the Product Manager does.

In a nutshell, a good Scrum Product Owner is also a Product Manager!

It’s all about the context

The team dynamics are always specific to this team.

Each team will find its own way of working, which will be fine-tuned to its context in the broad sense:

From there, the team will find its ad hoc way to bridge the gap between the roles on paper and the tasks in practice.

Example: weak relevance of the PO to the development team’s daily life

Let’s imagine a very technical project handled by a big development team, managed by a moderately Agile organization.

Naturally, the development team will slowly take over product stuff:

  • The PO adds marginal value since the project is very technical
  • Since the development team is big, the PO cannot keep up unless she “drops” part of the backlog management
  • This is especially true since the organization steals a lot of the PO’s time: to explain and justify the priorities, to define and maintain a vision for the team, to communicate at large

As a result this team made the choice — whether consciously or unconsciously — to have the development team handle most of the product stuff.

In the end, this Product Owner moves away completely from the “new generation project manager” style to become Product Manager instead — which is an integral part of the Product Owner role under Scrum. In this example, her main role is not to specify what is to be done, but to provide the development team with a vision and to let them handle the rest.

My view: the stakes of the Product Owner role

I like to push the Product Owner being the Product Coach of the development team.

Should the Product Owner test? That’s an interesting topic discussed in the Scrum Life video —English subtitles are available — :

Or that the Product Owner is not there to test in place of the development team.

I like to remind everyone that there is whole world beyond Scrum, the Product land, including the famous Lean Startup, and that above all the team must focus on it. And who else than the Product Owner to be the main actor?

But then, is it still a Product Owner?

Maybe, maybe not.

Does it matter? We don’t care about names.

Let’s say that the “product” is completely handled by the development team. To be honest it would be for the best! The development team must indeed take ownership of the product. And a developer with a product vision is a better developer!

For me, I see this situation as some Holy Grail, a goal that may not be reachable but which definitely deserves to be targeted at and that the team constantly moves closer to.

Different Product Owners depending on the setting maturity

In the end, somewhat like the Scrum Master role, different kind of Product Owners fit different kind of settings. What do I mean by setting? The setting encompass both organizational and technical maturities of the team but includes the maturity of the organization around the team as well:

  • In a not very mature setting, the team will benefit from a Product Owner focused on production rather than on product: clearly defined business needs, validation, protecting the team from the organization, communication, release management…
  • In a well-oiled setting, the team will benefit from a Product Owner going all out in the Product Manager role: market analysis, business value, backlog prioritization strategy, Lean Startup…

There is no bad Product Owner; only Product Owners inappropriate for the context!

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