There’s often debate about the interaction between these two titles, whether both are required, and how they co-exist, if at all.
- PM is more senior and delegates to several PO’s
- POs are not customer facing, instead living on the internal side, executing on the strategy laid out by the PM
- PO is another title for a Business Analyst, or a scribe, documenting requirements determined by the PM
The above may be true at some organisations, and it may work for them, but it’s not how the Scrum Framework (where the term Product Owner originates) intended.
What is a Product Owner?
The Product Owner role (from Scrum) is intended to truly own the product, including the vision, strategy and release plan. They are empowered to make decisions as to what gets built and why. There is only meant to be one PO, it’s not a committee, but they do take input from other stakeholders (incl customers). They create and advocate the product vision which materialises in the form of a prioritised Product Backlog that the Scrum team(s) they part of then execute on.
If you’re thinking that this sounds a lot like what a Product Manager does, you’d be right.
Roles, titles, and semantics
The debate seems to stem from a confusion around definitions.
If we were to look at both PM and PO as titles, it makes sense that someone must be either one or the other. However, Scrum deliberately defines the PO as a role. The intention is to bestow a set of responsibilities, not a title. With this perspective it reasons that you can indeed be both. A Product Manager (by title) could fulfill the role of a Product Owner in a Scrum setting.
“Product Ownership is agile product management leveraging Scrum. In other words, a good Product Owner is an agile Product Manager.”
The Professional Product Owner, by Ralph Jocham, Don McGreal.
Product Management beyond Scrum
The book does also agree that product management is a lot bigger than just Scrum.
Scrum is contained in its entirety in the Scrum Guide, which is 10 pages long. It includes base line responsibilities for the PO (and all other roles) but doesn’t specify exactly how to do the work. There’s no mention of market analysis, customer interviews or metrics to track. Instead, it deliberately leaves plenty of room for complementary tactics, methods and tools that a Product Manager might employ in their pursuit of product perfection.