Product ownership versus product management
The difference between a product owner and a product manager is that a product owner is responsible for the overall product vision, strategy, and execution while a product manager is responsible for the day-to-day operations of a product.
One thing I find weird in a lot of discussions in the Agile development world is the hyper-focus on definitions of roles and the adherence to the rulebooks about all the ceremonies. I am all for having roles and responsibilities clear but I am amazed by all the discussions about it in terms of how things should be. To me, the first rule of the Agile manifesto is the most important process rule: individuals and interactions over processes and tools. To me, that is the whole point, the whole driver of the counter movement against waterfall Prince2 ways of working. To me, Agile is about making software development human again. No hiding behind rulebooks, process definitions, role definitions, jargon. No! If we want to leverage the creative power of a team, we should make software development human again. And Agile is the closest thing I have seen to a system that works to make collaboration human again.
One of the pieces of this puzzle is the product owner. I find this a powerful title. Because that is the key to the whole counter movement against the dominance of rules and procedures: ownership. And the paradox here is that everyone on the team should feel ownership, not just the product owner. You might even say it is one of the tasks of the product owner to make sure everyone feels ownership. Rules and procedures should always serve and not be the goal or mindless execution. There is no one way to work Agile. You can study Scrum or any other form of Agile but the key is always to use what is helpful and leave the rest. One thing you shouldn’t leave is ownership.
No managers in Agile
The responsibility of the product owner lies with the users, the business stakeholders and the development team. The goal of the development process is getting shit done. And if shit doesn’t get done, that is the responsibility of the product owner in my view. If shit gets done that doesn’t help the user and the business, that is the responsibility of the product owner. It’s everyone’s responsibility but if nobody takes ownership, the product owner must. If things go wrong, the product owner takes responsibility. If things go right, the product owner gives credit to the team. Product ownership is about leadership, servant leadership to self-managing teams. How stuff gets done is up to the development team. The people on the team should manage themselves. Professionals don’t need management. There are no managers in Agile.
Agile is about self-managing teams. There are different types of teams with different responsibilities for the team and the “manager”. I put manager in brackets here because I only see the monitoring and managing the work and progress as management, designing the team and setting direction I see as leadership not management. But okay. Here is a diagram from the LESS framework that explains the responsibilities of the team:
Product management is about the product
In my view, Agile is about self-managing teams and the product owner designs the team and organizational context and set the overall direction. There is however also a product manager role. But that has nothing to do with the development of the product. Product management is about the product. That entails product marketing, product support, making sure the product performs in the world. Product management typically can be part of the product owner role.
Job titles aside, key to the product owner is that there is a self-managing team and no traditional manager but there is ownership. The product owner makes sure the right product get built and the product manager makes sure that the product performs in the world.
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