Challenging Myths — Part 2: Aren’t Product Owner and Product Manager the same thing?

Since there is no single valid definition for both roles and companies have different interpretations of them, there is a chance that in some cases both roles are seen as a synonym. Definitely, both roles have an overlap of responsibilities. For several reasons, I prefer to use the term product manager:

Relationship between role and process model

The term Product Owner is based on a role from the Scrum process model. If not Scrum, but Kanban or mixed forms of various models are used, the use of this term is misleading. The role of the product manager, in contrast, is a universal role that is not directly related to a process model. It does not have to be adapted when changing process models.

Lack of reputation due to basic certifications

The official certifications, e.g. CSPO, can be acquired with very little experience and knowledge building. While there is no argument against further education, this certification is not very helpful in terms of candidate qualification, as it hardly provides real competence and is tailored to the Scrum process model. Deeper knowledge or methodological competence in product management is not imparted. This approach of various Scrum organizations is generally not beneficial for the reputation of Product Owner. If both roles are equated, it does not do justice to the responsibility and competencies that most product managers fulfill.

Partial subordination of the product owner role

In quite a few cases, Product Owners are only used for the implementation of product decisions that have already been made. Many larger companies and models such as the SAFe framework (scaling agile models such as Scrum) even envision the role of the Product Manager as a higher-level business decision maker. Product Owner then remains the delivery role, working with the development team. While this may be a possible model in a service provider and agency environment, this type of separation of duties does not make sense in product development. In order to make good decisions, business as well as UX and technology aspects need to be considered cohesively. If product managers are overloaded as a result, it is better to reduce their workload in a different way than by separating responsibilities into two roles.

Conclusion: Both roles are appropriate depending on areas of responsibility

While in a Scrum environment product managers can perform the role of the product owner within their responsibility without any problems, in reverse it can be misleading. For product managers with real responsibility for a product, the term product manager is therefore more appropriate. In agencies or at services providers that work with the Scrum process model and more on the project level, the term Product Owner can also be used appropriately.

First published on Medium by Traian Kaiser

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Experienced Product Leader supporting aspiring and new-baked product leaders to succeed in action.

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Traian Kaiser

Traian Kaiser

Experienced Product Leader supporting aspiring and new-baked product leaders to succeed in action.

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