A Product Owner is not a Product Manager

Panama hat

What do a peanut, a Panama hat, and a starfish have in common?


Well, they’re all misnomers. A word or term that suggests a meaning that is known to be wrong.

A peanut is not a nut, Panama hats come from Ecuador, not Panama and a starfish is not a fish.

Another misnomer is ‘Product Owner’. Does the Product Owner really own the product?

A Product Owner is a role defined by the Scrum Agile methodology. A Product Owner is part of the team working on the development of the product. A Product Owner prioritizes the requirements in the backlog, specifies requirements ready for the next sprint and answers questions from development about the requirements that are being built. The focus is on optimizing development and working with the Development team.

A Product Manager has a much broader role. From the long-term product strategy and roadmap to business cases, getting market insight, proposition development, sales support, product marketing, and fire-fighting. OK, other people in the business may do some of these activities but nevertheless, someone needs to have a joined-up and balanced view across all the different aspects of a product. Someone needs to be responsible for its success. That’s usually the Product Manager and they’re usually very busy.

So if anyone owns the product within the business it’s the Product Manager. It’s not the person managing the requirements – the Scrum ‘Product Owner’. No wonder people get confused.

Forget about job titles. In reality, we find that many Product Owners do parts of the product management role and many Product Managers work on requirements. In fact, according to our annual survey, 35% of Product Managers also do the Product Owner role.

I always ask Product Managers on our training courses – “If you do the Product Owner role, how much time does it take?” Of course, the answers vary but it seems to average out at just under 2 days a week. That’s 40% of a Product Managers’ time attending meetings with Development and working on requirements.

Nothing wrong with that. The work needs doing. But it gets at a big dilemma many Product Managers face. Should you be the Product Owner for your product? Is it the best use of your time?

Agile Cartoon

Sometimes you don’t have a choice. There is no-one else to do it. But it is another role to take on and means you’ve got less time for everything else.

Our preference is to try and get someone else to do the Product Owner role – someone who takes direction from you. Maybe a Business Analyst or Manager working in Development. They can focus on the detailed requirements and you can focus on the high-level roadmap, commercial aspects and making sure the product is a success.

What’s your view?

Ian Lunn
Director, Product Focus

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