Product Owner

Product Role

What is a Product Owner?

The role of Product Owner comes from Scrum, a popular Agile planning methodology. It is a role that a Product Manager often plays while doing Product Development with a development team that practices Scrum, but that isn’t always the case, nor is it always a Product Manager who plays the Product Owner role.  In this article, we’ll explore the role of the Product Owner and the overlapping responsibilities with that of a Product Manager.  

Scrum Team Context

First a little context about Scrum.  Teams are optimally structured as 5-10 people cross-functional teams.  Whatever the mission of the team is, the necessary skills should be represented to achieve those goals.  For example, in software development, this likely includes some combination of application developers, API engineers, and UX designer(s).  In addition to these team contributors, there are two designated roles – the ScrumMaster who is responsible for keeping the trains running and facilitates best practices, and the Product Owner provides priorities and requirements to guide the team’s work.  Put another way, the Product Owner role is simply a role that one plays while participating in that Scrum team.

Not everything that Scrum is applied to is Product Development however.  You might have a complex systems-integration project being developed using Scrum, but it is driven by a Program Manager or Engineering leader, and a Business Analyst might act as the Product Owner, gathering business requirements to inform the teams’ efforts. So it is entirely possible to see people with titles other than Product Manager, playing the role of Product Owner.

Full-Spectrum of Product

Also, Product Management has a broad spectrum of responsibility and Product Development is just one part of it – Product is responsible for opportunity discovery and strategic planning that lead to that development.  Sometimes on a scaled product team, a Product Leader might take those discovery and planning opportunities and the more junior members of that team will focus on Product Development, in which case their role may more closely approximate that of a Product Owner, particularly in the Feature Teams configuration.  More often than not though, the team shares in the responsibility and contributes to opportunity discovery and planning efforts. And ideally, the Product Manager manages a working roadmap for their team as well.  

Clarifying the Confusion

It is not uncommon to hear people use the terms, Product Manager and Product Owner, interchangeably.  It is important to understand the differences, however, particularly if you’re the primary Product Manager responsible for the success of your Product.   The tactical work of requirements definition is an important part of Product Management, the key responsibility of Product Management is to ensure you’re building the right product and managing the planning and communication of that plan writing the organization.  As a Product Manager, do not let the tactical expectations of your team define what you do. Remember, it is just one part of the overall responsibilities of Product Management.

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