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Aug 17, 2019
It is a fallacy that the roles are Product Manager vs. Product Owner. Both can, and do, co-exist in an organization. This presentation explains the role of software product manager and agile product owner. Useful for people not familiar with these terms.
Product Manager or Product Owner
Different Roles for Different Folks
Contents Part I – Role and Responsibilities
Part II – Activities and Stakeholders
Part III – Organization
Part I – Roles and Responsibilities
“The Product Manager is the CEO of the Product”
A good product manager looks at all 4 dimensions of the ‘product marketing mix’
Entry level PMs may focus on one aspect of the
product, senior product managers will undertake
multiple initiatives across the dimensions.
PMs gain insight about their customers and markets through
research. Whether it is primary research, technology research,
competitor analysis or some similar initiative will depend on the
budget, time and business objectives for the research.
Research & analysis skills are vital for a Product Manager
In the SaaS world, customer retention is equally
important as customer acquisition, so services and
support become important aspects of the winning
company’s value proposition
• What is the product that we are creating, selling and delivering?
• What pricing model is optimal for achieving the company objectives?
• What channels are we using for sales (direct, white label, self service)?
• What promotions are we planning to increase usage and sales
(freemium, trial offers, buy 1 get 1)?
• and so on….
With increasing seniority, PMs are expected to work independently to deliver
product and business outcomes.
Grow high enough and you will have a PM team or teams reporting to you
Junior or Associate PM
Senior Product Manager
Principal Product Manager Manager, Product Management
Director, Product Management
VP, Product Management
SVP, Product Management
Chief Product Officer
Individual Contributors People Managers
Unlike a Sales Director, most Product Directors will have some
Recruitment and retention become key activities in a stable
and/or growing organization
Associate Director etc.
Your responsibilities as a Product Manager will depend to a great extent on the
In this structure, each PM looks at the 4 P’s for their own product
Most such PMs are senior experienced professionals
They create the business requirements, identify most profitable
opportunities and can even create sales plans
For SaaS and online products, the word “product” is substituted by
a “feature group”. Price, Place and Promotion can be considered
abstractions at the portfolio level
Another difference today is the scale of operations, where a single
“web service” or “feature group” may have millions of users
Product managers in this structure focus on a particular aspect of
the product, such as “payments”, “reports”, “integrations” etc.
A director may manage the 4 Ps at the portfolio level
PMs in such roles will be relatively junior specialists
As they are specialists, they can also become product evangelists
Feature PMs will have much more interactions with engineering
teams than PMs managing product P&L
Larger organizations may implement a hybrid structure, with specialists and senior
generalists, and that could also change over time
“In Agile methodology, the Product Owner
represents the customer to the development
A product owner is completely focused on the Product
• What is built?
• Who is it build for?
• How will it be used? And so on….
ProductThe PO looks at features, use cases, user interfaces,
architecture (occasionally), integrations, APIs, security and
all such dimensions of a product in use or in
For larger products or applications, this work can be distributed
among multiple product owners and development teams.
The PO always works in collaboration with Agile teams, include
development teams/squad and the scrum master
Product Owners gain insights through customer and competitor research. They identify the use cases, define
and refine features to support the use cases and then convert that into the product backlog. They will also
observe product demos and usage to identify ways to improve the product.
Product Owner is a common term in the Agile
world, also occasionally used by business teams
implementing Agile at Scale.
Many enterprise IT applications are created using agile methodology, and have
product owners in the development team
Agile is not a methodology or framework, and is
implemented based on organizational needs. So scope of
PO role is flexible.
Product owners own the backlog, which is typically the PSI
(potentially shippable increment). It is a very specific role
for product development.
Product owners work with development teams, hence
outsourcing to a vendor may not be the optimal
Points to remember about the role
Spotify has identified many best practices
for grouping agile teams into ‘squads’ and
‘tribes’ as a hierarchy
The target of the Product Owner is to ship the product. Hence his main deliverable is a product
backlog that is well understood, adds business value and allows addition of incremental
features to the product under development.
Agile best practices do not recommend
more than 3-9 development team members
per Product Owner
Product Owners do not code, but are familiar with tools, processes and technologies
used by development teams
Source: By Dr Ian Mitchell - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44894952
• Scrum, Sprints
• Release Planning
• Rollback, CI/CD
• HTML, CSS
• Docker, Kubernetes
• XML, SQL
Part II – Activities & Stakeholders
“Launching a product is only the beginning of
Over time, PMs will deal with most departments or teams within the organization
for product related activities
The Ferris wheel on the right identifies some of these
Stakeholde Typical Activities
Finance Pricing, Discounts, Warranty Costs
Services Tools, Features, Training
Sales Sales support, Presentations
Pre-sales RFP Clarifications, Pre-sales support
Cloud Features, Deployment scenarios, NFR
Support Training, Documentation, Clarifications
Program or project managers will track important
initiatives till closure
Larger firms will have portfolio management at a strategic
level to govern such initiatives
NFR: Non-functional requirements
“For the Product Owner to succeed, the entire
organization must respect his or her decisions”
The Scrum Guide
Product Owners have daily tasks related to refining the backlog and shipping the product
Unless the entire organization is Agile, PO activities will be restricted to the product
Stakeholder Typical Activities
Product User Interviews, Research, Feedback, Concept Validation
Client Interviews, Research, Priorities
Business Owner Metrics and Charts to show progress and “value”
Architects Tracking NFR and standards compliance
Scrum Master Timely support, completion of tasks
Development Team Refinement, Clarifications, UX Prototypes
PO is the only person who defines the backlog
PO in larger firms will have to compete with other teams
for resources, budgets and meetings
Part III – Organization Structure
“Many organizations use Product Managers,
Business Analysts, Product Owners and
Program Managers interchangeably, without
“Scrum recognizes no titles for
Development Team members”
Functional Product Organization (Specialists)
Analytics APIs Web Products
Product managers focus on a set of features or domain
Analytics and other platform features get a dedicated PM
There is no separate product P&L, and investment
planning and budgeting is centralized
Engineers can rotate out of product teams at fixed
Product Line Driven Product Management Organization (Generalists)
Each product is defined as a profit centre
Product, pricing, packaging and promotion become
PMs and Directors work with sales and marketing to
The complete product life cycle from Concept to End of
Life is managed by the PM team
Ideal Scenario - Product Development with Scrum Teams
Focused on shipping faster, rather than on long term detailed product planning & delivery
Product Owner engages users, experts and the business
He creates the backlog estimated by the development team
UX, POs and Architects are other important internal
Client buyers, decision makers and users are important
Business owner has the final say in accepting the product
There are many different versions of this model, adapted at the product, business or company
level. Agile at Scale explains how it can be adopted by the entire firm. The Agile Manifesto
explains the vision behind this.
Product Development Organization with Scrum Teams and Analysts
This structure is often seen in offshore centers and with vendors
Product Owner is typically located offshore, unless
development team is located at vendor site
Business Analysts create functional specifications for the
Development team is driven by engineering priorities, not the
There is an additional interface between product owner
It is possible to have a different owner or stakeholder for
every backlog item (UX, Architect, PM, CPO)
This model supports the offshore engineering centre in their objectives and allows the development
of complex products in a hybrid agile + waterfall model. Unless resource management is planned
carefully, the engineering structure can supersede the agile structure.
Large or Distributed IT Application Development Teams that use Agile
An ideal structure has been defined as a Scaled Agile Framework
You will find many agile
consultants and coaches who
can setup a complete agile
structure based on your
organizational needs and
SAFe© provides one such
Product Owners and Product Managers have different roles
Role and responsibilities depend on the organization structure
There is no ideal organization or definition for these roles
Questions or Comments?
Next presentation will cover product activities per role, at
different stages of the product lifecycle
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