What is a product owner? How do they differ from a project manager?

Often in an organisation, an individual, perhaps a product manager or a product stakeholder, delineates what must be created. This person will comprehensively document the requirements, which are then handed over to a project manager.

The project manager is then tasked with delivery. This role typically involves managing constraints around time and budget. The traditional model of project management hinges on three key elements: scope, schedule, and budget. If a project manager can deliver the triangle of being on time, within budget, and to scope, they are traditionally deemed successful.

However, this classical way of thinking is output-oriented. Is it possible to deliver everything on time, within the scope and budget, and still fail as an organisation? Sadly, yes. There’s a risk that the product you’ve built isn’t right for the market, or the environment has changed, and you deliver the wrong thing at the wrong time. These issues are hidden within the traditional approach where we write something down and give it to a project manager. This is where the role of the Product Owner comes into play.

A different approach

The product owner’s role is pivotal within the Scrum framework. In Scrum, we break apart the triangle of scope, schedule and budget, and say there are aspects with a product focus and value focus towards our end users, and other elements related to the way we work and organise ourselves internally.

The organisational and process-based elements – how we work internally – are typically overseen by the Scrum Master. The Product Owner focuses on delivering value to end-users. This involves more than simply overseeing the creation of a product – it requires ensuring that the product will meet the users’ needs, be it in functionality, timing, or any other factors affecting value. This approach strives to avoid the aforementioned scenario where a project is delivered perfectly yet still fails.

A shift in perspective

Interestingly, the Scrum Guide makes zero mention of a ‘project manager’. This isn’t to say that Scrum disregards the important activities performed by a project manager; rather, it reassigns these activities to various roles within the Scrum team.

When Scrum is properly implemented, the activities traditionally performed by a project manager are divided among the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the Developers. There may be the odd task that falls outside of these roles, and these would be handled externally.

In essence, Scrum redistributes the activities of classical project management within the Scrum team, emphasising the focus on both product and process.

About Effective Agile

Ralph Jocham is a Change Agent in Scrum // Agile // Coaching // Evidence Based Management and also a Professional Scrum Trainer based in Europe.

As one of the first Professional Scrum Trainers in the world, Ralph has worked directly with cocreator of #scrum, Ken Schwaber, and has played an integral part in the course development of the #PSPO (Professional Scrum Product Owner) as well as the delivery of all #scrum.org certified courses.

If you’re looking to invest in training that transforms and empowers teams to successfully adopt #scrum or #agile, and create high-performance #productdevelopment environments leveraging the agile values and principles, visit https://effectiveagile.com/agile-scrum-trainings/

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