One of the things that the agile seems to do consistently is spark a never ending series of “this versus that” debates.
Agile vs Waterfall
XP vs Scrum
Scrum Master vs Project Manager
Scrum vs Kanban
Scrum vs SAFe
The latest debate is product manager vs product owner. Whatever you think of the debate, I think it’s a good sign that at least it’s happening.
To me it’s an indication that teams are starting to care about the product aspect of things.
Several experts, practitioners, and pontificators have weighed in on this topic, so I thought it would be interesting to compile the various perspectives on the product manager vs product owner debate. For each post, I note the author, a little bit about them, and the gist of their perspective. I’ve tried to include those that I agree with and those that I don’t.
And if you’re curious, my perspective is a bit nuanced, and described in my free report – Product Ownership in the Wild.
Product Owner is a Role. Product Manager is a Job.
Melissa Perri’s article inspired me to put together this compilation. The key thoughts from her post:
- Product owner is a role you play.Product manager is a a job.
- Scrum talks about the tactical activities that product owners do. Product Management provides the foundational skills to know when you are delivering the right thing.
Don’t Split the Role.
Marty Cagan contributed a couple of articles to the debate. In his first post, Marty argued that it is difficult to make informed product decisions unless you can appreciate the customer’s pain and the technical difficulties involved in addressing that pain. When you split the role, you lose the connection between those two items.
In his second post, Marty realized that in his attempt to avoid splitting product management, he communicated that it was ok to consider product owners and product managers as the same thing. He realized the error in his ways as he ran into multiple product owners who didn’t have a full appreciation of the broader product management responsibilities.
Roles and Titles Don’t Matter.
Roman Pichler’s perspective is that product owner is a product management role, and ultimately the debate doesn’t add much value. We should just refer to everyone as product people and focus more on the activities. That’s certainly an idea I can get behind.
Product Owner is a Role Played by a Product Manager
Dave West also calls product owner a role that a product manager plays, but his perspective seems to be that the most important that product manager playing the role of product owner should do is directly support the delivery team.
There is a Difference between PO and PM
Cliff Gilley also points out that the product owner role is defined entirely based on it’s relationship with the team and as a result is a subset of the product management responsibilities. He also argues that it is possible for there to be both a product manager and product owner in certain circumstances.
A Dynamic Duo
Nick Coster argues that there is a difference between product managers and product owners and they most definitely should be different people. His argument is that using agile (ok, specifically Scrum) adds new responsibilities for product people which should be filled by a product owner in addition to a product manager, so that each person can focus.
Product Owner? We Don’t Need No Product Owner!
Wade Shearer addressed the product owner vs product manager debate by saying we don’t need the product owner role. His view is that the product owner role is a product delivery role and does not play any part in determine whether you’re building the right thing.
What Say You?
I know I haven’t included all the arguments, and fully intend to add additional perspectives as I run across them. In the meantime, where do you stand on the product management vs product owner debate? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.