Product management is the job everything else is a role
Why is it important to understand what Product Management is and where other roles, like the one of the Product Owner fit?
Mainly, for two reasons:
a) to help you understand the difference and the requirements for a possible career path;
b) if you are in a more senior role, to help you get a more viable product and enable innovation in all your product teams. We will be discussing this point below.
Product Management: what is it?
Product Management was first brought onto the scene by Procter & Gamble, they wanted to bring development closer to the customer by implementing field testing and client interaction.
Product managers, until the early days of the tech world, mostly came from the marketing department. Now there is a clear separation between Engineering and Marketing responsibilities and their hierarchies.
With the Agile movement and its tenets, especially “Customer collaboration over Contract negotiation”, the gap between Product Management and engineering was reduced. Scrum soon after came along and also introduced the role of the Product Owner to further facilitate the communication between engineering and Product.
We can see that the responsibilities of the Product Owner are just a small subset of Product Management.
An excerpt from the book: “The Professional Product Owner – Leveraging Scrum as a competitive advantage, Don McGreal, Ralph Jocham”
Don: When I work with an organization to identify ideal candidates for the Product Owner role, I first ask about the strategic activities above and who does them. If the organization already has a Product Manager who does many of these activities, then I consider them an ideal candidate for Product Owner. If nobody is doing these activities or that person is not willing or able to commit to a Product Owner role, then I insist on empowering our Product Owner to own these activities as a way of elevating the role beyond the tactical to the strategic.The Professional Product Owner – Leveraging Scrum as a competitive advantage, Don McGreal, Ralph Jocham
And some responsibilities of the Product Manager:
* Analyzing the industry and competition
* Maximizing ROI Forecasting and assessing feasibility
* Developing product strategy
* Planning releases
* Identifying customers and their needs
* Roadmapping the product
* Auditing results
* Creating outbound messaging
* Sustaining the product
* Executing the release
* Creating the business case
* Identifying product requirements
* Launching the product
* Developing customer retention strategy
* Defining product features and initiatives
* Retiring the product Marketing and brandingThe Professional Product Owner – Leveraging Scrum as a competitive advantage, Don McGreal, Ralph Jocham
Now that we understand where the Product Owner responsibilities usually sit in the overall scheme of Product Management, let’s see exactly how these roles are currently being implemented.
The Product Owner
This is a role coined in the Scrum framework.
Just as a short reminder, the Scrum framework came about in 1995, and the Agile Manifesto was published in 2001. Piggybacking the Agile Manifesto, shortly after, the first Scrum book was published.
Now, this is very important. Both the SCRUM framework and the Agile manifesto were created to tackle the industries that had a lot of uncertainties in their DLC ( let’s call it risk ). The risks were:
- Developing a product too late for the market;
- Developing a product not viable for the market.
Point 2 can be seen as product/market fit ( you can read more about it here ), whereas point 1 can be correlated with the complexity of the environment: technologies rapidly changing, competitors in the market and so forward.
Both of these points can be summed as Porter’s five forces framework (also by using other techniques, but I find Porter the one that shows this better) in defining economic moats ( you can read more about this here ).
In short, a traditional product development strategy spends a lot of time in research before actually getting feedback, meanwhile, the market’s forces ( competition in the industry, potential new competitors, power of suppliers, power of customers, and the threat of substitutes, just to name a few ) would have changed since the initial planning phase.
Now that we’ve discussed WHY this mindset shift took place, we can focus on HOW these problems had to be solved.
The Product Owner is a role in Scrum, in the latest revision from November 18th 2020, it is described as:
The Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Scrum Team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, Scrum Teams, and individuals.Scrum guide -18 November 2020 https://scrumguides.org/scrum-guide.html#product-owner
With the responsibilities mentioned as:
Developing and explicitly communicating the Product Goal;
Creating and clearly communicating Product Backlog items;
Ordering Product Backlog items; and,
Ensuring that the Product Backlog is transparent, visible and understood.
Scrum guide -18 November 2020 https://scrumguides.org/scrum-guide.html#product-owner
The Product Owner may do the above work or may delegate the responsibility to others. Regardless, the Product Owner remains accountable.
As we can see the Product Owner is a role in the Scrum team with responsibilities being loosely defined. Meanwhile, many companies, big and small, hire Product Owners with very specific responsibilities. See the conflict?
Here is an example Job description, how it may look like, for a Product Owner role:
Collaborate with the users and stakeholders to discuss product requirements and validate the roadmap.
Work closely with the Product Owners team and partner with the developers on daily basis to manage and deliver the requirements.
Work with POs on defining the concepts, and define the design timelines considering the project scale.
Engage with senior management, end-users, UX/UI designers, IT, Front
Lead the creative decisions on your projects across all dimensions. He/she must ensure the quality of the work that is delivered.
Validate your designs/ wireframes with the users via User testing sessions and gather the observations.
Analyze and implement them in pixel perfect design mock-ups and share them with the developers
This is just an example of what you can get for a Product Owner role. Companies have tried their best in formalizing a Scrum role into a valid job description, but by doing so they’ve managed to successfully abandon one of the key benefits that the Agile mindset brings.
In order to see how this happens, we will first need to cover also…
The Product Manager
Most organizations have a designated Chief Product Owner or Product Manager ( I am looking at you SAFE ) that does most of what the Product Owner should do.
Here’s the catch: an Increment is never in itself valuable on its own. It is valuable as part of the bigger picture and product. Designating accountability on an Increment/Iteration basis is narrow-sighting the Product Owner and fails to empower the Product Owner in delivering value.
Here is an excerpt from Marty Cagan’s “Inspired” book. Marty Cagan has served as an executive responsible for defining and building products for some of the most successful companies in the world, including Hewlett-Packard, Netscape Communications, and eBay.
You’ve likely encountered the term product owner, and you may wonder how it relates to the product manager job. First, product owner is the name of the role on an Agile team for the person responsible for the product backlog.
Keep in mind that Agile is used in all types of companies, not just product companies. In product companies, it is critical that the product manager also be the product owner. In product companies, it is critical that the product manager also be the product owner.
If you split these roles into two people, some very common and predictable problems result—most commonly, the loss of your team’s ability to innovate and consistently create new value for your business and your customers.
Moreover, the additional responsibilities of the product manager are what enables good product owner decisions in a product company. Second, while I always encourage product managers to learn the development process their team is using, taking a class or certification on the product owner role covers a very small part of the responsibilities of a product manager.
To summarize, product owner responsibilities are a small subset of product management responsibilities, but it’s critical that the product manager covers bothMarty Cagan – Inspired
A Product Manager will mostly hold the roadmap and release lifecycle for a given period, he/she will collaborate with Project Management and other stakeholders for control of the budget, he/she does not, by title or responsibilities alone, have control over the Profit&Loss statement on its own.
Glancing over https://www.scaledagileframework.com/product-and-solution-management/ and for comparison purposes with https://www.scaledagileframework.com/product-owner/, we can clearly see a line of separation of responsibilities.
Coming back to what I’ve previously written, an Increment does not have value on its own, if a Product Owner only executes what the Product Manager tells him, how will he “bring any value from what the Development Team accomplishes“? A command and control chain ensues which only brings more delays to an ever-changing environment.
Let’s not forget why this role has been established in the first place, enter the Product-Management gap/vacuum:
The Product Management Vacuum exists because releases should be part of the overall strategy, which not always happens.
The more people you put on a vertical circle, the longer the decision-making will take, thus robbing the organization of its potential to rapidly respond to change. The flatter the organization, the better.
This is why the Product Owner is not a committee, to avoid potential conflicts of vision and priorities, thus lengthening the decision process.
Now, that doesn’t mean there should be only one Product Owner, nothing is that prescriptive, and given the wide array of products and the scale of some organizations, handling more than 2 teams while at the same time being outward faced towards the customer and every department that goes with it, might be an overhead for just a single person.
In the end the Product Owner role can be split, according to the products necessities, while avoiding some common anti-patterns ( read more about common anti-patterns in scaling the Agile Product Owner here ).
It all boils down to responsibility, the more the Product Owner is empowered and given end-to-end responsibility, the more the role holder will have a more fulfilling role and the organization will get more out of the Agile way of working.
That means running the sprint, to the releases, contributing also towards the product strategy and vision. In a bigger picture, each can do its part.
If a Product Owner is resumed only towards managing the backlog within the constraints set by someone else, he will turn into a Delivery Manager.
There is also the tactical/strategic split. The more the Product Owner does firefighting in negotiating and clearing scope ( tactical ) with stakeholders ( in a command and control situation ) the less he will be able to inspire and lead the team towards a grander strategic scope.
Now ask yourselves, if you were an entrepreneur, what would you prefer: you handle everything yourselves as a one-man show or would you like to have inspired partners.
If you choose the first option, handling everything by yourself. Now imagine you have 5 customer interviews for a product you just discovered. Having 30 minutes each, that means 3 hours, after schedule. What if you could split that time?
What if after you’ve launched your product, you’ve found out, after all the planning, that your sales are behind? Wouldn’t it have been better to have someone else share a tidbit on an alternative take? Another angle? Another customer segment? A pivoting strategy?
In a big product, there can be multiple Product Owners handling different sub-products of the product. If they have end-to-end responsibility they can help your team to innovate and consistently create new value for your business and your customers.
A Product Manager is a Product Owner and vice-versa, responsibilities are shared not split. Product Management requires much more than day-to-day activities and firefighting and as such a Product Owner has to be first a Product Manager and second a Product Owner, vision is a must-have and vision is a strategic orientation for the long run.