Product Owner vs Project Manager

Do you think of yourself as a Project Manager or Product Owner?

Those who’ve had training in traditional project management or Agile project management probably already know the technical differences between these two roles. At a glance, they look nearly identical and oftentimes, the people in these positions switch hats daily to cover both responsibilities. But how does the mindset of these two roles affect the success of your team?

Project managers are responsible for delivering the project on time, on schedule, and on budget. When a sponsor commissions a project, they’re the ones who are explicitly or implicitly telling the sponsor, “I’m going to lead this project; the success or failure of the project rests with me.”

A product owner is also responsible for the successful delivery of the product, but from the perspective of value, quality, and time to market. It’s not just a difference in responsibility, it’s a difference in mindsets and the criteria for success.

If you’re the project manager of a car plant, your job is to create a plan to build the cars to specification, on time, and within budget. You lead a team to execute on that plan, removing obstacles to keep things on track along the way. Your focus is the efficient building of the cars… and that’s pretty much your only focus.

By contrast, a product owner thinks about return on investment and that’s going to significantly impact what features make it into the final product, the experience for the end-user, and which items get priority. As product owner, you’re far more involved in the design process of the product itself and the end-user experience for that product.

(Image Source: Erin Beierwaltes)

Apply these roles to the customer engagement world and the benefits make themselves clear.

Project Manager:

  • Sales: They’ll make sure the online sales flow and agent sales flow function.
  • Language: They’ll make sure the language used in collateral and online, convey a message.
  • User interface: They’ll make sure the user interface functions and meets the minimum requirements.
  • User experiencee: They’ll make sure the experience allows them to get from the start to the finish.
  • Support: They’ll make sure there are support options available.

Product Owner:

  • Sales: They’ll focus on maximizing sales in the online experience and agent sales flows. They’ll focus on getting people into the funnel and removing barriers that might inhibit a customer’s ability or desire to complete the sale.
  • Language: Because a product owner is focused on product quality, they’re going to scrutinize the language to make sure it flows well.
  • User Interface: A product owner’s concern doesn’t end at basic function, they’ll want an interface that’s inviting, draws customers in, and keeps them engaged.
  • User Experience: Again, function isn’t enough; they’ll try to make the most frictionless experience possible to maximize user engagement.
  • Support: A product owner is going to want the end-user to enjoy their product so they’re going to think about potential issues an end-user may have and attempt to correct them before they happen.

Even if you’re not the owner of a product, viewing things through that lens will probably yield a much better customer experience and a better return on investment. Think like a product owner. Your boss will thank you, your team will thank you, and customers will thank you.

Originally published at Richard J. Worthington.

Written by

Technology professional with 12 years Verizon Fios experience in technical and staff positions.

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