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Product Management versus Product Ownership

Martyn Evans, Oct. 12, 2015

We talk a lot about ownership at Unboxed. We feel it really encapsulates the combination of empowerment and responsibility that makes people effective and happy. So how does this work in a product team with both a Product Owner and a Product Manager?

The role of the Product Owner

The Product Owner is a key role in any product team and we work hard to support them through coaching, mentoring and occasionally acting as their proxy as they struggle to free themselves from the unreasonable demands of their “day-to-day” job. We call them “the single wringable neck” and whilst most likely coming from the "client side", the Product Owner is definitely “one of the team”. The rest of the team has a responsibility to give the Product Owner all the information they need to make good decisions.

Product Owner

The role of the Product Manager

Product Manager plays a very different role. They act at one remove from the product team and look inwards and upwards towards stakeholders within the business and outwards towards the market. They often have a portfolio of products to look after and their job is to make sure that all of them are aligned with the overall business strategy. They manage a different and often extremely complex set of conflicting priorities to the Product Owner.

Product Manager

In small companies or start-ups, both roles are often filled by the same person - a challenge in itself. In larger companies, we see a lack of distinction between the two roles, resulting in frustration and failure.

5 tips to help the roles work in harmony

Neither role is easy but by understanding them a little more, they can be extremely effective. Here are a five tips to help:

1. During the early phase of the product lifecycle, combine the roles into one and have a seasoned product person get to grips with the vision for the business, the customer problem to be solved and the solution that fits the market

2. Always allow a Product Owner to own one product and commit their time 100% to it’s success

3. As the individual product or range of products grow, and the roles split, make it clear where every product fits within the overall business strategy and encourage openness and visibility between the two functions at all times

4. Have Product Managers attend regular ceremonies with the product team to ensure the two way flow of information and feedback

5. Encourage the Product Owner and Product Manager work together to find that sweet-spot between user needs and business requirements