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Agile/Scrum and Product Management (part 3)

Continuing from part 2 of this series, I want to respond to one of the comments that was posted by a reader.

James Peckham commented:

Why wouldn’t you have your product manager as your product owner? that’s the stupidest thing (sorry, it is) that I’ve ever heard. Your product manager is the perfect person (that is if they have the damn enthusiasm, knowledge, and willingness to get their hands dirty).

Yeah, so why wouldn’t you have your product manager as your product owner? Well, I could explain it in a lot of boring detail, but I’ll let others do it for me. I’m glad to see others on the web see this problem in the same way I do.

Dean Leffingwell over at Scaling Software Agility succinctly shows the differences between the two in this table:

The difference between the two roles is very clear. From focus (strategic vs. tactical) all the way down to scope (release vs. iteration), the two roles are very different.  There is no denying that external input is needed for the development team to be successful.  The real question is who should provide that and at what level they need to provide it.

The CrankyPM, in her own unique way, also sums it up well:

You argue that in Scrum the product manager is the same as the Product Owner, and therefore the Cranky Product Manager needs to be constantly available to the team in order to make on-the-spot decisions within minutes of the asking.  Ergo, you demand the Cranky Product Manager sit in that sticky-note-encrusted, windowless tomb with you all damn day.

Uh, no way.  Not gonna happen.

Why not? Because the Cranky Product Manager needs to be the Voice of the Customer and the Voice of the Market.  How is she to do that without actually VISITING some customers and prospects?  And VISITING means that she actually needs to leave the office, hop on airplanes, and fly far, far away.  She cannot answer questions from the dev team within 5 minutes if she’s on a plane, or in a meeting, or on the phone with a customer.

And finally, Jennifer Fawcett of Agile Product Owner says it most succinctly:

There are reasons and roles within a successful team that allow this to work (even if it’s not completely agile). I advocate that are two product-related roles within an agile enterprise:

  • The Enterprise Product Manager, who typically reports into marketing, and who owns the RELEASE
  • The Agile Product Owner, who typically reports into engineering, and who owns the ITERATION

So, I hope this puts the question of Product Manager = Product Owner? to bed. There are clearly two roles, with difference responsibilities, and levels of focus. They need to work together during the development cycle to ensure that product development proceeds efficiently and correctly.

In part 4, I’ll talk about where the role of Product Owner should sit, and whether there is such a thing as an “Agile Product Manager”.


Agile/Scrum Software Development and Product Management (part 1)

Agile/Scrum Software Development and Product Management (part 2)

Agile/Scrum and Product Management (part 3a)

  1. Chris

    Look forward to pt. 4, because so far pt. 3 has done little to bring clarity to the issue. For example, in pt. 1 your Scrum definition calls the Product Owner the “voice of the customer,” but that’s exactly what the Cranky PM says the Product Manager should be. So which is it? To those of us trying to, hoping to, move to a more agile process, this type of contradictory advice is paralyzing.

    One suggestion I saw that seemed to make sense is having an assoc. PM take on the product owner role. I like that, but it implies that the product owner comes from the product (business) team, not the engineering/tech team. Jennifer Fawcett, on the other hand, recommends the product owner come from engineering. Again, contradictory advice.

    I know that each organization is different, and that there are no set rules, but after spending the last hour reading through your posts and replies, I’m more confused than I was before, and still not convinced that the product manager/owner aren’t one in the same.

  2. Lou Paglia

    here is a fundamental issue. many organizations do not discern the difference between product management, product development and even further product marketing. And often, this could extend even to project management. Many times this is due a start-up environment or sheer resource constraints and not so much that “they don’t get the difference between the role definitions”. This has a cascading effect into one individual’s role in agile and SCRUM. Sometime due to this constraint the same person is the person doing the OUTWARD product role as well as the INWARD product development role. That is reality and is something that I feel many readers here cannot ignore.

    There is a way to strike a balance. And the points here are valid, however that if you need to be on a plan seeing customers, you can’t be in the daily SCRUM. My sense (and we are early in the agile adoption process) is that just puts more pressure on the SCRUM master to track down the open items and ensure the sprint keeps moving.

  3. saeed


    You are absolutely right about the fundamental issue is that many orgs don’t understand the differences between the various functions. Compound that with the fact that many orgs don’t actually understand Agile/Scrum but implement it based on what they are told by consultants or what they read or heard at conferences.

    The fact that Product Owner is defined in terms of “Voice of the customer” also automatically drives people to certain conclusions even if the conclusion is not a good one.

    A Product Manager CAN be a Product Owner in Scrum, but they don’t have to be, and in many cases should not be.

    Also, who said there can only be one Product Manager? Even in a smaller company, if Scrum requires extra PM face time with Engineering then hire another PM and don’t give the excuse that there’s no room to hire. Take a dev headcount and give it to PM. The net result will be a better, more scalable PM function that also helps Engineering be more efficient and in the end has a significant impact on the business.

    While not specifically related to Scrum, I do write about this topic of PM headcount in this article.



  4. Jonathan

    This is a VERY good summary of what we, as Agile Product Managers do. In our specific case, we sometimes act as both the Product Manager and the Product Owner. It is interesting to note the way it was described that the Product Owner needs to sit in a room full of “stickies” while the Product Manager needs to be “flying far far away”. From my experience, this is correct, but, another aspect of my experience is that, one person may be doing both. The reason is that for example, the “Product Manager” doesn’t fly 100% of the time, actually way less than that. On the flip side, the “Product Owner” doesn’t need to be within 5 minutes reach 24/7.

    I can tell you that personally, as someone who has been doing it for a while now and with the current technology (mobile, email, skype etc) even when traveling, or being across the world from the development team (with 10.5 hours difference, in case of India) one can still successfully perform both parts. In fact the time difference is actually an advantage, often times, when I do visit the customer the team in India is sleeping, and we overlap during 2-4 hours a day, allowing to provide the Product Owner functionality. From my experience, even if the Product Owner is away, it doesn’t really bring the development team to a screeching halt if there is an unanswered question.

    So, as a summary: The article is great, it describes very well our “modus operandi” as Agile PdMs with possible caveats and adjustment as mentioned above.


  5. saeed


    Thanks for the comment. And while the two roles *can* be done by one person — as in your case — I don’t believe it is an optimal situation and certainly doesn’t scale well. Companies need to understand this and not just keep adding to the workload of individual PMs.

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