Introducing - Product Management Question of the Week!

We’re introducing a new topic here in the community - Product Management Question of the Week! These are thought provoking questions that sometimes leave us scratching our heads and we want your opinion on them!

This week, we’re tackling the question of whether a product owner and a product manager are the same role. Some say they are, others have differing opinions. What do you think?

Give us your take in the comments below!

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PO - more focused on sprint goals , supports the sprint team by prioritizing the product backlog, backlog refinement, creating user stories and sprint planning. Basically works with internal stakeholders - developers, designers and product manager
PM - Manages the entire product life cycle and product roadmap. works with both internal and external stakeholders

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PM is more focused on product development and the roadmap of the product. It gives the pleasure of building something with continuous user feedbacks. Meanwhile, PO is more focused on clearing the backlog and implementing the Sprints and reaching the set milestones.

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The product manager discovers what users need, prioritizes what to build next, and rallies the team around a product roadmap.

The product owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product by creating and managing the product backlog.

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I love this being the first question that’s dropped in the topic, since I’m having this discussion for years. In my (humble) opinion:

A PO is a set role within an agile team. Within this role the PO is mainly (if not only) working on the ‘development side of the company’. Making sure User stories are written and refined with the team, planning sprints, etc. Main question the PO needs to answer is HOW to build features/requests.

On the other hand the PM should deal with all business stuff related to the product. Being the eyes and ears of the product by understanding customer and business needs. Main question the PM needs to answer is WHAT to build.

Together the PO and PM need to decide WHEN features can be build.

To do your work as a PO or PM properly you do need a close collaboration between the two roles and understand what challenges the other one has to face. This helps you making the right decisions. Therefore I think it is wise to join refinement sessions being a PM and sometimes do ask to PO to join requirement gathering sessions.

Since an image usually speaks a thousand words, I drew an overview of what I’ve written above:

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Robert, thank you for the thorough response to this question. I agree with your take and want to add something.

For those that say PO and PM are the same, I struggle with (a) the skill/task difference between the roles and (b) the workload for one person to do both roles well.

In a perfect world, with one smallish team s as NS one smallish product one person could do both. But as product, business, and team complexity climb some tasked with both roles will have a difficult time balancing both and it’s likely one will suffer.

With a great team and scrum master, perhaps the minimum effort of the PO side could be accomplished with more time spent on the PM side, but we don’t always get to pick our teams.

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Workload I fully agree with you @bobkenyon . I’ve been working in a smaller company in the past where the PM and PO role was combined. I experienced first hand it’s impossible to excel at both roles at the same time. I even tried to be the team’s scrum master at the same time. It got me close to a burn out :wink:

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