The last couple of years we see a change within organizations. A lot of companies e.g. booking.com, ING got rid of the term Product owner role and change it to product manager. Some organizations even have both positions. What are the biggest differences?
Where the roles came from
The product owner role comes from the scrum framework. Introduced in the 90s. At that time a lot of organizations already had product managers like HP being one of the first. This was one of the reasons to change the title to product owner. The argument was that a lot of organizations were still in waterfall mode and they were afraid it would stay that way, that’s why they changed the name.
Are both roles the same?
Well in some organizations they are. E.g., Booking.com only uses the product manager title within their teams. Being completely responsible for a part of the product. The same applies to ING, which calls it customer journey expert, but it holds the same responsibilities. Unfortunately, you also see this role being introduced to go back to the old way of working, which is simply telling people what to do and create long term roadmaps. The SAFE framework is an example where a PM => PO structure applies, here the PO is more a proxy prioritizing the backog. The biggest differences are:
- Team Backlogs instead of one product backlog;
- SAFe Product Owners cannot really steer the product as the roadmap & vision lies with the product manager.
If you ask us we agree with the definition of booking.com “The Product Manager drives design, development, and implementation of products”. If you lack the mandate within these three steps, then you are probably more executional, also called proxy in some environments. This can e.g. cause situations where you can’t finish products because your dependent on professionals outside the team.
We all know situations where we just must build what has been designed or told by product managers or key stakeholders. So from our view the name owner or manager shouldn’t really matter, as long as the responsibilities, mandate and the role stays like is was defined in scrum.
How do I know if I’m owning the product?
Ask yourself the following questions. Am I
- able to say no to work coming in?
- the one communicating and defining the roadmap?
- part of an autonomous team that can deliver from design to delivery?
- prioritizing the work?
- Identifying the value of features / products?