I think the Product Owner is uniquely challenged in Scrum. You are both externally focussed on the market/customers and internally focussed on keeping the team moving in the right direction. As a Product Owner, it was my responsibility to
- know the market,
- demo the product to prospective customers,
- work directly with UI/UX personnel to improve the customer’s possible interactions, and
- come up with competitive pricing.
I was also responsible to the team for
- providing a vision
- managing the backlog and
- guiding each release of the product.
This Agile Life added an interesting task to the Product Owner’s list of things to do.
- Work with the team in identifying what will be reviewed with stakeholders at the Sprint Review.
So what is the difference between a Product Owner and a Product Manager?
According to Mike Cohn of Mountain Goat Software
The Scrum product owner is typically a project’s key stakeholder. Part of the product owner responsibilities is to have a vision of what he or she wishes to build, and convey that vision to the scrum team. This is key to successfully starting any agile software development project. The agile product owner does this in part through the product backlog, which is a prioritized features list for the product.
The product owner is commonly a lead user of the system or someone from marketing, product management or anyone with a solid understanding of users, the market place, the competition and of future trends for the domain or type of system being developed. 1
According to Roman Pichler, a product owner is more than just a re-branded product manager: Product owners tend to take on a wider range of duties, which makes the role multi-faceted and challenging. 2
In my experience, I have worked with Product Managers who were mostly outwardly focussed. They might provide direction to the team at a high level and usually at the beginning of a project but they were not interacting with the team on anything more than an occasional basis once a release was begun. I have also seen Product Owners who were mostly internally focussed on managing the teams’ backlogs. In fact, on a product that has multiple teams, managing the backlog and handling team questions for 2+ teams can consume in large amount of your day.
So which is it? Outward or Inward?
Is one more important than the other? Well like most of life, it depends. In an organization with a fractured upper management, having an outward focus is huge. The Product Owner must frame the discussion and guide the organization (and its politics) to a successful conclusion. Navigating upper management’s conflicting interests is essential to the success of especially a new product. On the other hand, a novice or weak team will need the focus.