The PM Vision

Duties of Product Manager vs Product Owner Responsibilities

Readers of this blog already know that I’ve written about the product manager vs product owner roles before.

This month, as an Aha! Ambassador, I have contributed a post on the topic that includes a breakdown of the duties of each of those roles.

My post re-states my case for combining the role during initial construction and splitting it upon market release.  With the benefit of an editor, it’s probably better-written than my previous takes on the topic.  I’ll summarize the case here, but I don’t need or want to revisit it in full on the PM Vision.

Since I’ve never broken the roles down into a detailed list of responsibilities, however, I want to share that list here.

The Premise

My basic premise is that for product managers, the initial product release demands the intense focus of a single individual.  That individual champions the idea, validates it with customers, and guides the development of the solution.  This avoids communication gaps that may occur when delegating the software development function too early, before the idea has moved from intangible concept to living, breathing software.

Once the product takes on paying customers, however, this model fails to scale.  The single individual either neglects the development effort in favor of helping sales, marketing and implementations, and talking to clients; or neglects the market in favor of the engineering team.  Neither is acceptable for continued success of the product in the market.

That’s when you need a dedicated product owner.

For more on the rationale, please check my prior posts, and see my post on the Aha! blog.

Division of Labor

If your company has decided that it makes sense to devote two individuals to the success of a growth-stage product, how do you divide the labor?  What’s the secret to making sure both people are working in concert towards the same goal?

I sat down with the business analyst assigned to my product, and mapped out the following breakdown.  She wanted to know in the battle of product manager vs product owner, which of us does what.

We wanted a tangible description of the product owner responsibilities, and a clear delineation of where those responsibilities stopped.

She didn’t tell me I’m nuts, so I’m going with it! 🙂

The following table is intended to cover the majority of the typical responsibilities of the development-facing product owner, and the interface points with the product manager.  It is based on tips we’ve picked up over the years and in research, but it has not yet been vetted in practice.

This table is not intended to list all of the duties of either role, but it should provide a useful reference for how these two teammates interact.  It can be tailored further to other organizations.

PM Manages the long term roadmap, involving sales, marketing, implementations, clients, prospects, etc – expressed as epics.
PO/BA Leads requirements gathering effort on the epics as needed – consulting Product Mgmt, Implementations, clients, etc.
PM Assists PO in enabling voice of customer on epics
PO/BA Leads backlog grooming to decompose/estimate stories
PO/BA Documents story details after review with development
PO/BA Creates mockups, works with UX on design
PO and PM Writes acceptance criteria
PO/BA Answer questions from developers, clarifies requirements, etc.
PO/BA Reviews and accepts stories
PO/BA Documents the new feature for implementations
PO/BA Participates in standups, retrospectives, demos
PM Attends iteration demos, and some standups
PM or PO Demonstrate latest iteration to customers (pre- release) and gathers feedback.
PO and PM Meet 2x/week or more as needed

If your organization has a product manager and product owner pairing, how do you assign the responsibilities?

Please leave your thoughts in the comments.


Image source: Flickr