A Product Manager Is Not A Product Owner

A Product Manager Is Not A Product Owner

First, let’s define what Agile and Scrum are.

What is Agile Methodology?

Agile is a group of methodologies, mainly found in the software world, that help establish the best process a team can use for optimum product development. 

The process involves different stages from customers’ expectations to product launch and continuous improvements.

The Agile team works in a project management process way. Its work involves different teams’ inputs that impact the product development.

What is the Agile Philosophy?

Agile philosophy is about the continuous iteration of development and testing. 

Agile Principles

Here are the Agile 12 principles you will find in the Agile launching pad manifesto: http://agilemanifesto.org/:

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity (the art of maximizing the amount of work not done) is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

What is Scrum Process?

Scrum is a subset of Agile development methodology. It focuses on bringing business values quicker and by (Sprint) iteration.

The Scrum process is about team accountability and iterative progression.

What is a Sprint?

A Sprint is a time-limited Scrum teamwork event (task, project specifics). It is at the center of the Scrum process.

Agile vs. Scrum

Scrum is Sprint based and so delivers progress by team-focused workshop iteration. It is cross-functional and void of management power requirements.

Scrum Sprint does not consider leadership in their teamwork effort.

Scrum is used for rapid change requirements.

The Agile process is more a long, continuous set of increments and iterations for software development. It requires a leadership role.

The Scrum Team

We find 3 roles in a Scrum team: 

  1. the Team (usually, the team consists of software developers and testers, but it benefits a lot if we include other professionals that can bring key inputs and support to the Sprint teamwork),
  2. the Scrum Master (he is the facilitator and helps in giving feedback, guiding the team for a more efficient and accurate agile work process. He offers support and coaching to the Product Owner in the team), and 
  3. the Product Owner, a critical role in an Agile project.

What is a Product Owner?

Product Owner Role Definition

The product owner represents the need so to speak: either the audience to serve or the business interests. From working with the users he establishes the right features to prioritize in the product development process.

He holds a tactical position in the Scrum team.

He attends Scrum meetings and structures the backlog while ensuring regularly that the development team is on the right track. 

What are Product Owner Responsibilities?

The Product Owner interacts with customers or users to understand their needs, and with stakeholders to understand the business implications, and with the team members to convey the vision without authority over any team member while acting as staying their main point of contact. 

The P.O. keeps the team focused on the deliverables and prevents members’ distractions. 

The P.O. describes and prioritizes user stories and manages, reviews, and refines the product backlog. 

The Product Owner is accountable for product success. 

Traits and Attitudes of a Great Product Owner

The Product Owner is: 

  • Customer-driven (a strong and fundamental customer-focused attitude), 
  • Tech-savvy (although not all industries will require IT knowledge and experience, it helps and in tech-related product startup it’s almost mandatory), 
  • Business-driven (provides a great foundation to stakeholders meetings and potential negotiation needs), 
  • Strategic thinker and vision conscious but tactical-oriented,
  • Flexible in his/her attitude,
  • and product-driven.

The Product Owner remains available to the Scrum team, decisive, and a good communicator.

What Product Owners should Avoid Doing?

  • Do not come with solutions during Scrum meetings.
    You are still responsible for the “why” but not for the “how”. Let the teamwork happens and they’ll figure out the acceptable “how”.
  • Do not load the team boat once the Sprint has started already.
    Sprints are short enough to get results fast. If the team performs well in optimal timing, don’t assume they want to tackle more in the same Sprint event. Keep any new priority emerging for a later date Sprint.
  • Do not command and control their work. Let the team self-organize, and resist any micromanagement or task allocation practice. 
  • Do not add more tasks for the sole purpose of achieving, even more. Keep high-quality income and morale among the team and go through a Sprint in a go.
  • Do not delegate work and flee. Stay available and committed at all times. Practice the open door policy. They should be able to reach you anytime there is a doubt about the right direction.

A Product Owner is NOT a Product Manager

You will probably not see very clearly what makes a strong case for this argument. I understand since the P.O. can look-alike a Product Manager.

Here are the main differences:

  • The Product Manager is more strategic vs. the Product Owner more tactical,
  • The Product Manager is budget-conscious and can be in charge of funding, while the Product Owner is 
  • The Product Manager is product SWOT-conscious, while the Product Owner is backlog-centered,
  • The Product Manager buys while the Product Owner builds,
  • The Product Manager forecasts and manages the whole product lifecycle, while the Product Owner refines the backlog,
  • The Product Manager creates and manages the roadmap vs. the Product Owner making the best of the teamwork achievements,
  • The Product Manager is more focused on developing and defending the product cause vs. the Product Owner more worried about the product backlog.

A Product Owner is NOT a Project Manager Either

The Project Manager’s role and responsibilities would be found dispatched among the Team, the Product Owner, and the Scrum Master.

What is the Overlap Between the Product Manager and the Product Owner?

Both Product Managers and Product Owners and vision, and roadmap conscious. They are involved in needs and features definition, personas, and product positioning at some point. They represent in some different level of implication, the voice of the customer.

The Product Owner will be involved in users’ stories, backlog refinement, direct work collaboration with the development team, and the stories’ acceptance (ensures they are relevant and acceptable). The P.O. will be tracking releases.

You could simply imagine the Product Owner as a Product Manager subset with a very limited say on strategy and business case while expanded duties toward technical aspects of the product development and follow-up.

Can a Product Owner Become a Product Manager?

There are a lot of transferable skills and a Product Owner could easily become one if additional skills could be added to his/her skills palette such as competitors’ analysis, budget/cost/scale case study techniques, profitability analysis, MVP, among other topics. 

Transitioning from Product Owner to Product Manager

An MBA or a couple of online courses helping you add strategic thinking skills could help. Although I do not recommend an MBA since so much is already available online for free. Search for MOOC on strategy, business modeling. Join Product Manager meetup groups. Read on product management, talk to product managers. These are just a limited number of advice.


Being a Product Owner bears a lot of responsibilities but it is a very rewarding job. If you feel after some time in this position that you lack a wider range of responsibilities that should include the market, segmentation, pricing policy, the whole product lifecycle just to name a few of those, then by no means hold your learning horses back. Go for it and aim at a specialization and a certification in Product Management. 

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