Product Management and Agile Method

Here’s one of the most common questions we get regarding agile and product management::

In the agile framework, do you think the product manager should take on part of the product owner role? Please give me some motivation as to why or why not?

In researching my book, Turn Ideas Into Products, I interviewed over 100 vice presidents and chief technical officers on the impact of agile methods on product management. Those who reported success with agile methods kept the roles separate. As originally described in the scrum guides, the product owner role seems a lot like a product manager, but focuses primarily on addressing the needs of the product (development) team. In practice, the product owner role seems to have evolved to more of a business analyst role. 

In all honesty, the product owner role was defined by developers—and more specifically, developers of internal projects rather than vendor products for markets. 

A product manager is responsible for researching the market to identify problems to be solved, determining which products and features to build, and then guiding the product through development to marketing to sales and services. In this scenario, the product manager owns the product direction and works with a product owner to define what should be done in a sprint, iteration or release. The product owner works with the development team to flesh out the detail--explaining the personas and problems, participating in designing the solution, and clarifying acceptance criteria. The product owner provides on-going support for the team, answering questions whenever the team needs clarification. 

Ideally, the product manager and product owner together lead a “development brief” before each release planning meeting to share business insights to the team—the business goals, the market and domain issues, and perhaps the high-level marketing and sales enablement plans. The more the product team members understand the market and the personas, the more they can use their own judgment. 

Some teams have had success with a hybrid product manager/product owner role, but this usually means the strategy decisions (the market, the problems to be solved, the business decisions) have been made elsewhere. 

The Pragmatic Framework shows the scope of work needed to define, develop and deliver products. Use this tool to circle the activities for product manager and product owner roles. And if you find you’ve circled all the boxes on the framework for a single role, you have to ask, “Is it possible for one person to do all of this?” 

If not, split the role into two or three. 

See the Product Management Triad for an example of defining the three roles of product management. 

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Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson was a founding instructor at Pragmatic Institute, a role he held for more than 15 years before he left to start Under10 Playbook. In his return to Pragmatic Institute, Steve supports the complete learning path for product teams, ensuring they are fully armed for success. 

Over the course of his career, Steve has helped thousands of companies and tens of thousands of product professionals implement product management processes. He has worked in the high-tech arena since 1981, rising through the ranks from product manager to chief marketing officer. Steve has experience in technical, sales and marketing management positions at companies that specialize in both hardware and software. In addition, he is an author, speaker and advisor on product strategy and product management.


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