Agile · Definitions · Jobs to be done · Leadership · Principles · Product management

How a product owner works with a product manager

I wrote recently about the five key questions product managers need to answer in developing successful solutions. Here I want to build on this post to talk about the role of product owners in the development process.

First, I need to set some context. The wider Agile/Scrum community talks about Product Owners and Scrum Masters, which is what my company calls (somewhat confusingly) Product Managers and Product Owners. To make this more complex, we don’t necessarily draw a clear line between which role covers which parts of the overall development process, with some product managers going deeper into some aspects of product owner work while some product owners handle certain product management tasks. The key is to make sure someone is covering all aspects of this work and to make sure it is done in the right order.

Here again are the five key questions that a product manager must answer:

  1. What real problems or pressing aspirations do our clients or prospects face?
  2. What are they doing currently to pursue these aspirations or solve these problems?
  3. What would it take to get them to switch to a new solution?
  4. Can we develop and support a solution in a sustainable way?
  5. How can we effectively communicate about the solution we are offering?

Much of the product owner work happens between questions four and five. The product owner takes the insight gained from answering the first four questions and communicates this to the development team, serving as a bridge to make sure the team knows what problems are being solved for what type of clients and what the business constraints are for designing and building this solution. When the team has questions, the product owner also serves as a bridge back to the business side (either through the product manager or directly to subject matter experts and real users) to make sure those questions are asked and answered in a timely and effective way.

The focus of the product owner role is the development team, making sure they have enough defined work to keep the team productively occupied both for the current sprint and for several sprints to come, being readily available to answer questions and help with testing to make sure the right solution is developed, and helping the team communicate back to the product manager and the business side about why refactoring, enhancing performance, updating workflows and other less ‘obvious’ work is still important for the team to prioritize.

At my firm each team finds a different balance of how the product owner and product manager divide this set of tasks but both pieces – the market focus and the dev team focus – are important for a strong and effective product development team. Taking advantage of each person’s strengths and interests allows a product manager – product owner team to function as a true “dynamic duo” in finding and developing the best solutions for the target market, though of course in truth it’s not that simple.

[Image by forte-girl7 from Deviant Art https://www.deviantart.com/forte-girl7/art/Batman-and-Robin-65732205; possibly unnecessary geek reference just from me]

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