More on the Big Picture (3)- Product Owner vs. Product Manager

In the post Enterprise Agility–The Big Picture (3): Role of the Product Owner, I discussed the differences between the Product Owner and the Product Manager. In the past, I’ve discussed the fact that, at least in the larger enterprise, these are typically NOT the same individual and this is clear from the Big Picture Itself.


Big Picture 3- Product Owner and Product Manager

The reasons are straightforward. Simply, there are typically not enough Product Managers, nor are they necessarily inclined by training or interest to spend some/much/most of their time working directly with the product teams. The math itself is part of the problem. I’ve seen enterprises with up to 400 practitioners operating with as few as 4-6 Product Managers. It simply isn’t practical to assume that they will be able to support the Agile Manifesto Principle: Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project. Even if they were so inclined, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. And if they did spend most of their time with the teams, they become further removed from the customer the enterprise is required to serve. That can’t be good. (For more on this topic, check out the Product Owner/Product Manager category on this blog).

Moreover, the effective Product owner exhibits must exhibit a degree of technical competence in order to deserve and earn the respect of the team. As I noted previously,

“the foundation for effective decision making is driven by the technology of the implementation. In addition, continuous refactoring is integral to agile, and since the product owner owns the backlog, prioritizing refactors vs. value stories is a critical skill that requires a technical foundation.”

This blog post has raised some interesting comments which those interested in the topic may want to peruse at Enterprise Agility–The Big Picture (3): Role of the Product Owner.

One in-depth comment in particular, takes some issue with my recommendation (which I still support) that the Product Owner reports into the same line management as the team. To save you time, I’ve incorporated some of those comments from Malamo below:

“I want to expand a bit on the concept of trust. Agile forces a very interesting and powerful change with the Product Mgt and Development relationship. For years, it’s always been the same story – PM asks for too much and Development delivers too little. It’s been a conflict since the beginning of time and it’s always the other person’s fault. For the context of this post, I am going to declare one big assumption: that the product owner is properly skilled and has all the leadership characteristics listed above. The one I will add is that they should be a natural leader – more than anyone else, I believe the product is the person most responsible for keeping the team focused, motivated and engaged.

A good product owner changes the conflict mentioned above – completely. Their alliance is with the team and as a result, the conflict switches from PM vs. Development to PM vs. PO. The PO is the person responsible for ensuring product management is happy with the results. I have seen numerous situations where the PO has passionately defended the team’s performance. It’s a wonderful thing…

The product owner is also responsible for fostering and maintaining a solid relationship with the PM. If this doesn’t happen, it will create significant issues because ultimately the true stakeholders will start to question the ability for agile to deliver better results. The PO becomes the bridge between PM and Development. The PO understands with specificity what it takes to develop SW.

As a result of this shift in conflict, I personally believe all POs should report under the Product Management organization and NOT under development. Nothing changes from what Dean posts above – it’s all still critical. The PO should be collocated. The PO’s alliance is with the team. However, the dotted line (or direct line) relationship to the PM creates a needed balance of power.”


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