Product owner, project manager, product manager - who am I?

In project management, as is common in many professions, we use our own technical terms to designate roles, processes, tools and organizations. Whoever loses the overview here from time to time has nothing to be ashamed of. Even die-hard managers sometimes get things mixed up, and many who come into contact with the agile world of work first have to look up the basic terms.
It already starts with the role designations in agile project management, with which one is now suddenly confronted as a project manager who has not previously managed agile projects. Am I a product owner or a project manager or rather a product manager? It all depends...
Dice showing figure symbols are arranged in a meshed net.

Three roles or one and the same?

On the website, Steve Parker has dealt with these terminologies and the distinction between the individual roles. Steve Parker knows the differences exactly and deals with definitions and terms on a daily basis. He provided a good summary of the basics in the article, which we summarize for you below. Hardly anyone today is simply a project manager, it has become too common. Meanwhile, the terms project manager, product manager and product owner are often even used synonymously. Yet there are crucial differences. The role owners are all charged with bringing a project to a successful conclusion - but in different ways. Steve Parker looks at the tasks and roles.

The Project Manager

Project managers have been around since the beginning of what we call "projects." They once worked on the waterfall principle, supervising a team and overseeing projects. Project managers manage one phase of a project or even several full-scale projects. They have different tasks and responsibilities. These consist of gathering information and always being informed, making decisions and preparing them, organizing everything, knowing the details and mediating between the team and the stakeholders. Communication is always the be-all and end-all for a project manager. It used to be and it still is today. A project manager's responsibilities also include conflict resolution, monitoring and evaluation. Everything is done in an effort to bring the project to a successful conclusion, because project completion is always the main goal.

Product Manager

A product is more durable than a project. The product manager, of course, is all about a product. This can be a software or a beauty product, simply everything that can be marketed, sold or distributed profitably. The product manager is responsible for the success of a product. While the project manager focuses on the "how", the product manager focuses on the "what". Part of a product manager's job is to learn about the needs of the market. Opportunities must be identified and products must be tailored to the market. Then priorities must be set and a strategy developed. How should the product meet the needs and how should it be designed to be attractive? The product manager deals with the entire lifecycle of a product and develops a roadmap on how the product can see the light of day. Product managers work internally and externally with all interfaces.

Product Owner

The product owner as a role came along only when agile management became the norm. While his role is most similar to that of the traditional project manager, he works more closely with the agile team. The product owner, PO, is responsible for the end result. Instead of setting rules, the PO navigates team discussions, sets sprints and backlogs, and leads the team on the path to the next sprint. So he initiates the individual projects, works closely with the Scrum Master and team, and leads the daily Scrum meetings. The teams report to the PO. Similar to the project manager, monitoring is also one of the most important tasks of the PO. Continuous improvement is part of the job, as is collaboration with the team and customer. However, unlike a traditional project manager, the PO does this with the team and the customer together around a table and in a process. The product owner decides when the project is finished, but together with the customer.

Classic or modern? Innovative!

Steve Parker concludes with some advice for those who need to find their way through the jungle of management. Jeff Sutherland is one of the inventors of Scrum software development. He has always said that the classic project manager is no longer needed through Scrum, because there is only the team and no longer a boss. But this has not proven to be true. While the classic project managers worked in a structured and stringent environment, their job description has also changed. Everything has become agile, so to some extent, so has the project manager. He now has to collaborate with product owners, product managers and dozens of other functions, takes on new tasks and has to be mediator, coordinator, persuader and facilitator at the same time. He or she must be flexible and adaptable and must not let the new agile environment confuse him or her. One or the other may have found this difficult. But most project managers find their way in the modern project world surprisingly well. Accept the challenge and become agile - even as a classic project manager!
Author: IAPM internal

Key words: Project management, Agile project management, Roles

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For better readability, we usually only use the generic masculine form in our texts. Nevertheless, the expressions refer to members of all genders.