Product Managers vs. Product Owners

Get Off my Lawn! Agile Punks! 

All Agile roles support product managers.  I have seen many recent articles about Agile’s many force-fit job titles.  Ah Agile!  I knew ye when you were actually less conformist than SDLC.  So, over the next few posts I will reflect on Agile roles and product management.

Product Owner – Good for small projects with known users and market models. Good as support to product management. What they get when working with a product manager – off the hook for product’s overall success. They can focus on delivery success.

For new and complex products, the product owner role offers an often myopic viewpoint that does not include productized market view or technical leadership. This role most effective as a junior product manager role and can be critical for delivering on the backlog, detailing user stories and depth analysis.

Originally envisioned as a user/customer representative “in the room” who can immediately answer questions for development. Works well if you have a single group of users with a limited set of interests.  For example, people who want an Italian vocabulary app for their phone.

If you build complex, market making software, it’s unlikely you could fit all the “customer/users” in the room.  It is further unlikely you would ever want the dev team to just immediately code up whatever your key customer said they wanted.  For large scale new software, your customers’ stated wants and needs should be reviewed through the multiple viewpoints, including: the product roadmap (does this approach cut off a future direction?) , partner technology, and other users.

The product owner notion is too often an order taker role.  It works best as a support to product management. Product Owners are often far too junior to be product managers, and too enmeshed in daily SCRUM to be accountable for product decisions.