What is the Role of a Product Manager?
Who is the product manager?
The product manager is an extremely important person in an organization. You will typically find product managers at companies that build software or products for customers, or business-to-business (B2B) use.
The product manager is basically the CEO of the product. They are responsible for the strategy and road map for the product, as well as the team of employees that are involved in every step of making the product.
Business to Business
The exchange of products or services between businesses, instead of between businesses and consumers
The product manager has the responsibility of analyzing the markets and watching the competition, and laying out the initial product vision based on his assessments. The product manager has duties that are both strategic and tactical, and must have excellent leadership skills. He or she must be able to bridge the gaps between the many different teams working on a product, from design and engineering to sales and marketing.
The main responsibilities of the product manager are:
Strategy – The product manager is tasked with setting the product vision statement and developing the strategy. They must be able to explain what the customer wants to their team.
Releases – The product manager must be able to plan for when products will be delivered, and work with their team to make sure those deliveries happen on time. They can decide when to release a product, and when not (due to problems with the product or software).
Ideation – The product manager must be able to bring new ideas to the table. They take these ideas and turn them into products and their features. They are able to differentiate between good and bad ideas, and have an innate sense of which ideas will work best for the product line.
Features – The product manager must be able to define the product features, and what is required to bring those to the product.
Go-to-market – The product manager is the CEO of that product. This means they make all the decisions that are required to bring the product to market or deliver it to the customer. This also means being able to work with both the customer and the product team.
The Product Manager vs. The Product Owner
The product manager is basically the same thing as the product owner, and you may see those terms uses interchangeably. The main difference is that the term "product owner" is used mainly in the Agile and Scrum methodologies.
The product owner is one part of the main team in Scrum methodology, of which there are three.
1. Product Owner
2. Scrum Development Team
Here is a general list of the requirements for each role.
The Product Owner
One person who is responsible for maximizing the return on investment of the product development
Responsible for developing the product vision and writing the product vision statement
Maintains the product backlog, and makes adjustments, as necessary
Final arbiter of what is required and what is not
Approves or rejects each product feature or increment
Makes decision when and whether to ship
Decides if the product should continue to be developed
Keeps all considerations of stakeholders in mind
Is able to contribute to the development team
Scrum Development Team
Cross-functional team that is able to communicate with others on team, such as developers, analysts, marketers, etc.
Is able to be self-managing and self-organizing
Makes commitments to product owner during each sprint
Is able to work with autonomy regarding how to best meet commitments
Is able to collaborate
Is successful working in a team room – with everyone in the same room
Is willing to work the job long-term; turnover is not good for Agile orScrum
Works on a team of approximately seven people, plus the product owner and ScrumMaster.
Extremely knowledgeable about the Scrum methodology and is able to help the team learn and understand the process
Is able to resolve impediments and obstacles
Can create an environment conducive to self-organizationInterested in learning more? Why not take an online class in Product Management?
Is able to capture empirical data to make adjustments to forecasts
Blocks the team from external problems to keep the flow going forward
Keeps all Scrum artifacts visible and is transparent
Tries to improve engineering practices
Is not a manager and has no authority over the team
What Does The Product Owner Do?
Above you read a list of the duties and responsibilities of the product owner. Let's delve deeper into these duties and better understand what they require.
The product owner represents the wants and needs of the customer first. The customers and users are often referred to as stakeholders. The product owner's primary goal is to express the wants and needs of the stakeholders to their Scrum team. They are always the first source.
The secondary goal of the product owner is to represent the work of the team and report it back to the customer and stakeholders. They are the go-between for the customer and the Scrum team.
The term and role of "product owner" was introduced by Scrum, although it is also used similarly in the Extreme Programming (XP) methodology, as well. The position of product owner has been adopted by the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) framework process.
Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD)
The framework that allows simplified decisions around incremental and iterative solutions. DAD is built on the methodologies of Agile software development, including Scrum, XP and lean.
The product owner is the proxy for the stakeholder, and therefore has the following duties:
Acts as the go-to person for all domain information
Makes all decisions in a timely fashion
Is able to prioritize tasks for the team
Actively manages the backlogs
Participates in all customer testing
Facilitates team access to stakeholders, if necessary
Acts as an educator for the team in the business domain
Maintains the gateway to funding
When representing the Scrum team to the customers and stakeholders, the product owner has the following responsibilities:
Is the public face of the team for the stakeholders, customers, and users
Demonstrates features to important stakeholders who are unable to attend normal meetings
Announces all releases
Communicates to the stakeholders the team's status
Responsible for organizing all milestones and reviews
Educates stakeholders when necessary during the development stage
Negotiates product priorities, schedule, and funding
The Five Most Important Aspects of the Product Owner
1 – The product owner is the bridge between the stakeholders and the team.
2 – The product owner must be empowered, as they are the one person who is responsible for keeping the project moving. If the product owner is shy or quiet, or prefers to remain in their office, they will not make a good product owner. They must be outgoing and enthusiastic, and able to rile the troops, when necessary.
3 – The product owner must be an excellent communicator, and this includes Agile modeling skills. They must know their stakeholders and meet with them often. If it is necessary for the stakeholders and the team to meet, the product owner must facilitate this.
4 – The product owner must be an excellent face-to-face communicator. In Agile, and Scrum, communication is key. Remember, scrum teams usually work in the same work space, if possible. So the product manager must be able to speak directly with both the stakeholders and the team. Product owners shouldn't use email unless required for some reason.
5 – Product owners must have excellent business analysis skills. They must be able to analyze what the customer and stakeholders want and need, be able to negotiate priorities, and be able to effectively collaborate with the team to make sure all of the needs of the stakeholders are being met.
Extreme Programming (XP)
Is an Agile software development methodology that intends to improve software quality and responsiveness to constantly changing customer requirements
An Agile software development methodology that seeks to find ways to shorten development cycle times, and reduce development and production costs
The Chief Product Owner
Large projects can have many small teams, each of which would have their own product owner. However, one product owner can only oversee so many teams, before becoming overworked and potentially neglecting responsibilities.
How many teams a product has can vary depending on many factors, such as how new the product is, how complex it is, and how knowledgeable the team members are. Each team has a product owner, and when product owners collaborate, it can cause problems.
To solve this, large Scrum projects often have a chief product owner who oversees all of the product owners. This person creates and implements the product vision, and allows an easier way for product owners to collaborate. It creates a hierarchy.
The chief product owner leads the other product owners and ensures that the requirements of the product are being communicated to the teams, and that progress is being optimized.
If a project grows and requires additional teams, usually the first product owner becomes the chief product owner.
The Top TEN Things a Product Owner MUST Do
Create and Maintain the Product Backlog
The flow of information is constant in product management, and it comes from the customers and stakeholders, as well as the team. The product owner must be able to stay on top of the backlogs (both the product and sprint backlogs) as if it were a full-time job, in itself. The product backlog has to be perfect before heading into the sprint planning meetings, otherwise the team will not be productive.
Prioritizes the Backlog According to ROI
The product backlog must be in perfect order before the sprint planning meetings, and this means each task or story must be placed in order based on importance. There cannot be five top priority tasks; there must be a #1 task, a #2 task, etc.
Can Imagine Features and Themes, So They Can Be Completed in a Single Sprint
The very premise of the sprint is that a deliverable feature is produced during each sprint. Therefore, the product owner must be able to devise these features and understand how they can be completed in the two-week sprint time frame.
Capable of Conveying Vision at The Beginning of Every Sprint
The product owner must be able to remind the team of the sprint goals, and have them understand what needs to be released, and when. This keeps the team on track and leads to a more successful product launch.
Capable of Engaging Customer
The product owner must be able to engage the customer and keep them aware of what the team is doing. They must also be able to convince them that the product is worth the return on investment. The product owner can steer his team in a different direction, if necessary, and they must be able to do this, if necessary.
Participates in All Scrum Meetings
There are a lot of meetings in Scrum, such as the daily Scrum meetings, the reviews and retrospectives. It is essential the product owner attend all of them. There is simply no excuse for a product owner to miss a meeting, as it sends the wrong message to the team. It is also essential for the product owner to know what is going on every step of the way.
Inspects Product Progress at the End of Every Sprint
The product owner must inspect all work done during each sprint. The product owner has the ability to accept or reject the work done. If the work is not up to par, the product owner must re-prioritize the backlog as soon as possible. A product owner must be able to quickly recognize when change is needed, whether to the team, the product, or the competition.
Can Change Course of Product at the End of Each Sprint
The product owner must be able to completely change the course of the product at the end of a sprint, if he deems it necessary. If the product owner is knowledgeable and confident, the team will willingly accept these changes.
Can Communicate Externally
The product owner is the mouthpiece of the team for the outside world and must be able to effectively communicate to customers, users and stakeholders. This is necessary for the project to succeed.
Is Willing to Terminate a Sprint if Necessary
Sometimes things happen that require a full 180. When this happens, the product owner must be willing to terminate a sprint. Terminating a sprint is a big deal in the Scrum world, since all previous work will be lost and no longer of use. It doesn't happen very often, but in the rare instances where it does, the product owner must be willing to shut it down.
Desirable Characteristics of a Product Owner
What does the ideal product owner look like?
He is a Visionary
The product owner must be a visionary, who is able to listen to the customer, and envision what the final product will look like. He is capable of seeing that vision all the way through completion and delivery. He is able to capture ideas, work closely with the team, analyze feedback from stakeholders and users, and can steer the project throughout the product lifecycle.
He is a Leader AND Team Player
The product owner obviously must be able to lead. But just as important is the ability to work with the team. In Agile, the team is small, about 9 people total, and almost always works together. There is no room for ego or attitude.
Since he is the one responsible for the success of the product, he must be able to guide his team and keep the direction moving forward. He is able to make tough decisions, such as whether a launch date should be postponed.
He is a Communicator
The key tenet of Agile and Scrum is open communication. The product owner must be an effective communicator, and be able to negotiate fairly within his team. The product owner works with many different parties, such as the customer, users, stakeholders, developers, engineers, marketing, and sales. The product owner must maintain the voice of the customer and continually communicate the wishes and needs of the customer.
He is Empowering
The product owner runs the project, and therefore needs to be an empowering leader to the team, and an empowering go-between for the stakeholders. A product team must be empowered in order to bring the product to life, and this begins with the management style of the product owner.
He is Available and Qualified
The product owner job is not an easy one. When a project is ongoing it doesn't take breaks or vacations, and the product owner must be available to the team always. It is a full-time job. Because of this, Scrum teams are usually very close and trust each other very much. They almost become second families.
The product owner also must be qualified, as his qualifications and leadership will guide the entire product lifecycle. A well-qualified product owner understands the customer and the market, and is able to communicate that vision to his team.
Where Do Product Owners Come From?
Surprisingly, product owners come from all fields and disciplines. Here are some of the top places they come from.
1. Business Analysts – Business analysts are almost ready made for the product owner role. However, in order to be successful they must be able to communicate face to face, and be able to drop their reliance on e-mail and/or memos. Also, Agile skills are essential, so Agile business analysts are usually best.
2. Stakeholder – Stakeholders often work through the entire product lifecycle and learn what it takes to be a product owner. However, in order to be a successful product owner, the stakeholder will have to have strong business skills, especially in operations, support, and marketing.
3. IT Stakeholder – This is similar to regular stakeholders and they often face the same challenges, especially when it comes to having weak business skills.
4. Product manager – A product manager will already understand the processes and how to successfully take a product from inception to completion. The main difference is the ability to learn and work in the Agile or Scrum software development methodology.
5. New Hire – This is possible, but it is often difficult to bring someone brand new into the product owner position. However, if the company is small, this is a possibility.
Remember, the product owner is the head of the project, the CEO of the product. If he isn't there, there is no one else to help or pick up the slack. This is why it is key a product owner is chosen wisely. A good product owner can be the difference between a product that fails and one that succeeds.
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- Using Scrum to Manage Product Backlog
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