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Project Manager Vs Product Owner: Key Differences

For most of us, the role of a Project Manager is quite well defined. But how many of us know the role a project manager plays in an Agile project? Some other questions that often boggle budding Agilists are, exactly how different a product owner is different from a project manager? And are these roles interchangeable? This blog is an attempt to help you learn more about the Project Manager Vs Product Owner role and how these two fit into a modern project setting.   Comparison table: Project Manager Vs Product Owner   Project Manager Product Owner Type of Project Waterfall Agile Accountable for Project Management Effective backlog management Owns Project Product Features Responsibility Coordination Requirement’s definition Focus Internal External and internal Stakeholder interaction Is not responsible for effective communication within the project team and with external stakeholders Responsible for creating a communication link between stakeholders and team Team support Guides team on project management tools or configuration management Guides team on agile tools and processes Quality Is not responsible for ensuring that the product quality meets user needs Responsible for delivering quality to the end user and guiding teams toward achieving it Feedback Makes adjustments in the product vision and strategy according to customer feedback. Makes sure that the decisions made in the organisation are shaped according to the feedback received. Strategy Plans the goal and makes sure that value is being delivered to the customer.  Is responsible for business outcomes and strategic roadmaps.  Risk  Focuses long-term on the ongoing support for product capabilities and value streams.  Stays focused on the immediate sprint and release. Who is a Product Owner? The product owner is responsible for maximising the product value, representing the stakeholders, prioritizing the backlog, empowering the team, maintaining Agile and Scrum processes and defining the product vision. In recent times, the Product Owner has become an irreplaceable part of an agile project team. Their worth has been validated by their role in driving product value and enhancing stakeholder satisfaction. “The product owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the development team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, scrum teams, and individuals.”—Scrum Guide  What are the responsibilities of a PO, and what do they not handle? The responsibilities of the product owner include:  Managing stakeholders and driving value  Managing effective communication between the development team and stakeholders  Providing the product vision to the development team  Resolving conflicts and managing situations or escalations that may arise with stakeholders or development team members  Prioritising items on the backlog  Guiding the development team on Scrum values, principles and processes   Helping stakeholders understand the value of Scrum  The role of a Product Manager in a project and interactions with the team A good product manager can be a boon to a team and conversely a bad product manager can be disastrous to a team. A good product manager can set clear goals, define strategy and help the team to build the right things.   An effective product manager manages the project and at no point in time transfers the responsibility of managing parts of the project to the development team.   The development team’s sole focus should be on building a good product. The Product Owner should make sure that the team is proceeding in the right direction and the product is shaping up correctly.   The product owner plays an important part in the project as the person primarily responsible for prioritizing the scope, cost and deadlines of the product.   Who is a Project Manager? Most of us would have at some point in our careers worked under a project manager. A project manager’s role is extensive and includes everything right from successful initiation, planning, design to project closure.  As projects get more complex and pan global, the need for project managers has grown sharply in the past years, as they, with their expertise and skills are able to steer projects to success. Project managers are organized, passionate and goal-oriented, understand what projects have in common, and their strategic role in how organizations succeed, learn and change--PMI® What are the responsibilities of a PM, and what do they not handle? The responsibilities of a Project Manager include: Planning, organizing, completing a project Financial reporting Developing a project charter Resource management Risk Management Change Management Scheduling Cost Estimation and Budget Development Controlling quality Documentation Tracking performance indicators Vendor management Managing reports and other important documents A project manager does not Take responsibility for product success or failure Approve resources or funding for the project Work to provide seamless communication between stakeholders and team members Specify the users’ requirements to the team Maintain quality and ensure that the end product meets user needs The role of a Project Manager in a project and interactions with the team A project manager is responsible for leading a project from the start till the end, which includes planning, execution, and delivering the project on time, and on schedule and budget. They also have the responsibility to manage the people and resources, and work with the team to make sure that the desired value is being delivered in the correct order. It is essential that a project manager has a combination of skills, including the ability to ask questions, resolve conflicts, understand unstated assumptions, and manage people around. The project manager as the PMI states is a change agent who ‘makes project goals their own, and use their skills and expertise to inspire a sense of shared purpose within the project team.’ Shared Characteristics and Skills for the PO and the PM Both Product Owners and Project Managers work as change agents They both work towards completing the project and are thus valued members of the project team They both have great communication, conflict resolution and facilitation skills. This skill is paramount for their success as either a product owner or a project manager as they should be able to effectively communicate with stakeholders, team members, users etc They guide team members on processes and techniques to use to reach the final goal They both have a broad toolkit of techniques that they use to steer projects into manageable chunks They both have great people skills and have good organizational skills which come in handy when they have to deal with multiple requirements and projects They are both passionate when it comes to continuous improvement Responsibilities that overlap: Product Owner vs Project Manager In many organizations there is a very fine line between the project manager and the product owner. In fact, you may often find one carrying out the responsibilities of the other. These two roles have many responsibilities that overlap. Both the product owner and project manager have the responsibility of steering the team to achieving the goal. This they do by ensuring that the team is on time and within budget and not straying They both lead and work with cross-functional teams and are aligned with the team to ensure product success They both create the product or project roadmap to help the team understand timelines and scope They both make sure that priorities are aligned They are both involved through the life cycle of the project They both have to deal with the Iron Triangle’s elements of Time, Budget and Scope Both have to ensure and focus on return on investment and can discontinue the project if it does not meet the projected profits Project Manager Vs. Product Owner Product Vision: A Product Owner articulates the needs of a customer and acts as their voice for the product vision. A Project Manager acts as a curator of the product vision while representing the sponsors and stakeholders. Managing resources: While the project manager gets down to the minutest details of creating, managing and allocating work to the team members, the product owner does not have to do this. The Product Owner maintains the product backlog which outlines the scope of work. The self-organized development team, in turn, uses the product backlog as a guide to take up work and ensure deliverables.   Day-to-day activity: The day-to-day activity of the project manager involves keeping an eye on the time, budget and scope and making sure everything is on track. Controlling the time, budget and scope is the main responsibility of the Project Manager while a Product Owner’s primary responsibility is to maximize value. Conclusion The roles of a Product Owner overlaps that of the Project Manager. However, a Product Owner is authorized to work on prioritisation according to requirements, having domain expertise. Project Managers don’t have the authority to do so.    Apart from this, Product Owners lack the required project management skills. Hence, it can be said that a Product Owner is a Project Manager who is responsible for delegating the project team to a Scrum Master, while at the same time is responsible for the success of the project and project environment.  Which one is better for me? Which one is better for you depends on your current role, your aspirations and your educational background. With either of these roles, getting certified is a safe bet to ensure ample opportunities and a lucrative career.   The Project Management Professional Certification (PMP)® for Project Managers and Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO®) credential for Product Owners are apt certifications for these two roles.

Project Manager Vs Product Owner: Key Differences

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Project Manager Vs Product Owner: Key Differences

For most of us, the role of a Project Manager is quite well defined. But how many of us know the role a project manager plays in an Agile project? Some other questions that often boggle budding Agilists are, exactly how different a product owner is different from a project manager? And are these roles interchangeable?

This blog is an attempt to help you learn more about the Project Manager Vs Product Owner role and how these two fit into a modern project setting.  

Comparison table: Project Manager Vs Product Owner

  Project Manager Product Owner
Type of Project Waterfall Agile
Accountable for Project Management Effective backlog management
Owns Project Product Features
Responsibility Coordination Requirement’s definition
Focus Internal External and internal
Stakeholder interaction Is not responsible for effective communication within the project team and with external stakeholders Responsible for creating a communication link between stakeholders and team
Team support Guides team on project management tools or configuration management Guides team on agile tools and processes
Quality Is not responsible for ensuring that the product quality meets user needs Responsible for delivering quality to the end user and guiding teams toward achieving it
Feedback Makes adjustments in the product vision and strategy according to customer feedback. Makes sure that the decisions made in the organisation are shaped according to the feedback received.
Strategy Plans the goal and makes sure that value is being delivered to the customer.  Is responsible for business outcomes and strategic roadmaps. 
Risk  Focuses long-term on the ongoing support for product capabilities and value streams.  Stays focused on the immediate sprint and release.

Who is a Product Owner?

The product owner is responsible for maximising the product value, representing the stakeholders, prioritizing the backlog, empowering the team, maintaining Agile and Scrum processes and defining the product vision.

In recent times, the Product Owner has become an irreplaceable part of an agile project team. Their worth has been validated by their role in driving product value and enhancing stakeholder satisfaction.

“The product owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the development team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, scrum teams, and individuals.”—Scrum Guide 

What are the responsibilities of a PO, and what do they not handle?

  • The responsibilities of the product owner include: 
  • Managing stakeholders and driving value 
  • Managing effective communication between the development team and stakeholders 
  • Providing the product vision to the development team 
  • Resolving conflicts and managing situations or escalations that may arise with stakeholders or development team members 
  • Prioritising items on the backlog 
  • Guiding the development team on Scrum values, principles and processes  
  • Helping stakeholders understand the value of Scrum 

The role of a Product Manager in a project and interactions with the team

A good product manager can be a boon to a team and conversely a bad product manager can be disastrous to a team. A good product manager can set clear goals, define strategy and help the team to build the right things.  

An effective product manager manages the project and at no point in time transfers the responsibility of managing parts of the project to the development team.  

The development team’s sole focus should be on building a good product. The Product Owner should make sure that the team is proceeding in the right direction and the product is shaping up correctly.  

The product owner plays an important part in the project as the person primarily responsible for prioritizing the scope, cost and deadlines of the product.  

Who is a Project Manager?

Most of us would have at some point in our careers worked under a project manager. A project manager’s role is extensive and includes everything right from successful initiation, planning, design to project closure. 

As projects get more complex and pan global, the need for project managers has grown sharply in the past years, as they, with their expertise and skills are able to steer projects to success.

Project managers are organized, passionate and goal-oriented, understand what projects have in common, and their strategic role in how organizations succeed, learn and change--PMI®

What are the responsibilities of a PM, and what do they not handle?

The responsibilities of a Project Manager include:

  • Planning, organizing, completing a project
  • Financial reporting
  • Developing a project charter
  • Resource management
  • Risk Management
  • Change Management
  • Scheduling
  • Cost Estimation and Budget Development
  • Controlling quality
  • Documentation
  • Tracking performance indicators
  • Vendor management
  • Managing reports and other important documents

A project manager does not

  • Take responsibility for product success or failure
  • Approve resources or funding for the project
  • Work to provide seamless communication between stakeholders and team members
  • Specify the users’ requirements to the team
  • Maintain quality and ensure that the end product meets user needs

The role of a Project Manager in a project and interactions with the team

A project manager is responsible for leading a project from the start till the end, which includes planning, execution, and delivering the project on time, and on schedule and budget. They also have the responsibility to manage the people and resources, and work with the team to make sure that the desired value is being delivered in the correct order.

It is essential that a project manager has a combination of skills, including the ability to ask questions, resolve conflicts, understand unstated assumptions, and manage people around. The project manager as the PMI states is a change agent who ‘makes project goals their own, and use their skills and expertise to inspire a sense of shared purpose within the project team.’

Shared Characteristics and Skills for the PO and the PM

  • Both Product Owners and Project Managers work as change agents
  • They both work towards completing the project and are thus valued members of the project team
  • They both have great communication, conflict resolution and facilitation skills. This skill is paramount for their success as either a product owner or a project manager as they should be able to effectively communicate with stakeholders, team members, users etc
  • They guide team members on processes and techniques to use to reach the final goal
  • They both have a broad toolkit of techniques that they use to steer projects into manageable chunks
  • They both have great people skills and have good organizational skills which come in handy when they have to deal with multiple requirements and projects
  • They are both passionate when it comes to continuous improvement

Responsibilities that overlap: Product Owner vs Project Manager

In many organizations there is a very fine line between the project manager and the product owner. In fact, you may often find one carrying out the responsibilities of the other. These two roles have many responsibilities that overlap.

  • Both the product owner and project manager have the responsibility of steering the team to achieving the goal. This they do by ensuring that the team is on time and within budget and not straying
  • They both lead and work with cross-functional teams and are aligned with the team to ensure product success
  • They both create the product or project roadmap to help the team understand timelines and scope
  • They both make sure that priorities are aligned
  • They are both involved through the life cycle of the project
  • They both have to deal with the Iron Triangle’s elements of Time, Budget and Scope
  • Both have to ensure and focus on return on investment and can discontinue the project if it does not meet the projected profits

Project Manager Vs. Product Owner

  1. Product Vision: A Product Owner articulates the needs of a customer and acts as their voice for the product vision. A Project Manager acts as a curator of the product vision while representing the sponsors and stakeholders.
  2. Managing resources: While the project manager gets down to the minutest details of creating, managing and allocating work to the team members, the product owner does not have to do this. The Product Owner maintains the product backlog which outlines the scope of work. The self-organized development team, in turn, uses the product backlog as a guide to take up work and ensure deliverables.  
  3. Day-to-day activity: The day-to-day activity of the project manager involves keeping an eye on the time, budget and scope and making sure everything is on track. Controlling the time, budget and scope is the main responsibility of the Project Manager while a Product Owner’s primary responsibility is to maximize value.

Conclusion

The roles of a Product Owner overlaps that of the Project Manager. However, a Product Owner is authorized to work on prioritisation according to requirements, having domain expertise. Project Managers don’t have the authority to do so.   

Apart from this, Product Owners lack the required project management skills. Hence, it can be said that a Product Owner is a Project Manager who is responsible for delegating the project team to a Scrum Master, while at the same time is responsible for the success of the project and project environment. 

Which one is better for me?

Which one is better for you depends on your current role, your aspirations and your educational background. With either of these roles, getting certified is a safe bet to ensure ample opportunities and a lucrative career.  

The Project Management Professional Certification (PMP)® for Project Managers and Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO®) credential for Product Owners are apt certifications for these two roles.

Usha

Usha Sunil

Blog Author

Writing is Usha's hobby and passion. She has written widely on topics as diverse as training, finance, HR and marketing, and is now into technical writing and education. She keeps an interested eye on new trends in technology, and is currently on a mission to find out what makes the world go around.

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Safe Agile Ceremonies - Expert Guide

“Winners take time to relish their work, knowing that scaling the mountain is what makes the view from the top so exhilarating.” ― Denis WaitleyWhat are SAFe agile events (or) ceremonies? – a brief overview:Before we jump into the topic, could I just take you a step back and remind you what SAFe is all about? SAFe is a way of taking any iterative Agile way of working (normally restricted to a team or few teams) and scaling it up at various levels of the organization, whilst applying a mindset of Lean manufacturing. It also deals with scalability at various levels. Beginning from Essential SAFe right up to Full SAFe, the framework caters to all organizational levels of scaling agility. As part of this, it broadens the core idea of agility mindset beyond just projects/development teams right up to executives/CXOs, who must prepare for enterprise level uncertainties. In a sense, it provides valuable enterprise level scaling insights helpful for the executives to tackle any uncertainties/risks associated with a project.As you start applying SAFe in your organisation, it is important for you to understand how each level works in conjunction with the other, depending on how mature your SAFe enterprise is. The key link between these levels is the SAFe specific events which help with smooth value delivery facilitation. The events help with alignment across teams, ARTs etc thus helping in managing risk by providing a level based cadence and synchronization.Essential SAFe - Your First Level of Scaling Using an Agile Release Train (ART). Courtesy © Scaled Agile, Inc. Source: Scaled AgileWhy do we need level-based ceremonies?While it is important to go through your team level events (like the 4 sprint events if you are doing scrum etc.) it is important to have the scaling events that help with bridging gaps and unblocking dependency between teams. The most important part of these SAFe specific events is for ‘Business Stakeholders’ to get a look (demo) at a proper incremental product and thus the value arising out of it. Makes sense? It did for me and let me tell you why.I was once associated with 3 feature teams, who were working towards a common product goal. They all had the same business stakeholders but were working on individual features. Team A was working on developing a Login page, Team B was working on a landing dashboard while Team C was hopping along, trying to provide a search functionality for the user. All of them were applying the Scrum framework and were running their own events. Sprint demos were happening individually and were being represented by the Product owner separately along with his business analysts. All seemed fine but there was a nagging problem. The product owner was worried, because he couldn’t bring any business stakeholder to view the demos, as they were being run in silos and there was no visibility on the incremental product. Well technically there was, but they would have to sit through three or four-hour events individually to get bits and pieces of the product demo. In the real world, it's not a possibility simply because your business stakeholders will not have that much time to spend on multiple demos. It is not a good use of their time either. So, what’s the solution? Simple, it’s SAFe to the rescue! Let’s try and understand how the SAFe specific events help with this.Prescribed PI Cadence for Various Levels of Scaling. Courtesy © Scaled Agile, Inc. Source: Scaled AgileHow do the events (or) ceremonies help to scale up according to the levels in SAFe:SAFe is very relevant and designed to thrive in situations where there are significant cross functional dependencies between agile teams and support / functional teams (infrastructure teams, architect community etc).  Essential Level:   As you start to scale up one level up, you will be working with anywhere between 5-12 agile teams who will all be collectively working towards a common goal which is the program increment or PI. The anchoring catalyst that brings them all together is your ART (Agile release train). Before getting into the events, lets understand the various roles involved at this level because this is the common denominator across all levels of SAFe and across organizations. This is where you need to get it right without which there is not much use in scaling higher. Key Roles involved: Release Train Engineer (RTE) System Architect/Engineer Product Management   Business OwnersPrescribed events on a typical Agile release train (ART). Courtesy © Scaled Agile, Inc. Source: Scaled AgilePI PlanningAccording to me, PI planning (hands down) is THE most significant aspect of executing this framework. This is where all the magic happens. It is sometimes referred to as the heart of the framework as it offers a clear vision of what the program increment needs to be, what the cross-team dependencies are and how they bring together the cultural sustainability much needed within the release trains. It is so important, that if carried out incorrectly it could lead to several ambiguities, development challenges and mostly a disastrous product increment. However, when it works well, the iterative cycle serves to flesh out the crucial elements of the plan and the processes ensure buy in from the stakeholders.Duration: A normal PI planning is a 2-day activity, which is a face to face cultural get together of the various ART teams. However, a new 3-day distributed PI planning has been introduced to help with geographically distributed teams (across various time zones), very apt for the current pandemic situation.“There is no magic in SAFe® except maybe for PI Planning”. – The authors of the SAFe framework.In big organizations with multiple distributed teams across multiple vendors, work streams etc. it is almost impossible to run these teams independently, whilst still having to deliver an incremental program. SAFe via the PI planning exercise mentioned above, helps with sorting out these issues by recognising cross team dependencies upfront, constantly negotiating & visualising them. This doesn’t just stop with the PI planning but the framework also proposes a cadenced way of continuing this via the scrum of scrums. The Program Board is an ideal way to showcase the cross-team dependencies.A sample SAFe Program board. Courtesy © Scaled Agile, Inc. Source: Scaled Agile1. Inspect and Adapt (I&A)An inspect and adapt event is scheduled after every PI. This event is dedicated to aligning to the principles of Kaizen, which simply means to change for the better. The events contain self induced thought processes to revalidate your assumptions that everything is working OK. The I&A event consists of three sub-parts as below:  PI System DemoQuantitative and qualitative measurementRetrospective and problem-solving workshop2. ART Sync Agile release trains tend to apply a cadenced synchronization process to help manage the ability to focus on continuous value delivery. An ART sync will typically comprise of the below sub-events.  Scrum of Scrums: This event is for representatives from all the teams on a release train to come together in a regular cadenced manner, especially on large ARTs. This is normally facilitated by the release train engineer (RTE) and will involve scrum masters of the individual teams and a few selected team members (authorised by the team). The sole purpose of the SoS calls are to understand progress towards the common goal, validate cross team dependencies and unblock impediments that may arise out of them. Duration: The length and frequency of the meeting will depend on a few factors like the size of the ART, the release frequency, type of features being worked on, ability to decouple releases etc. For e.g an ART which releases features into production every 4 weeks might want to have an SoS call every 2 weeks for about an hour. Again, if this doesn’t work for you, just inspect and adapt to what works well for your organizational needs. Just make sure that the SoS is utilised for its sole purpose and not just status updates as depicted in the below comic representation.Scrum of Scrums PO SyncThis event is represented by the Product Owner, business analysts and the product management group. This is used mainly to level up the product backlog refinement and for clarifying PI (Program Increment) scope, reviewing roadmaps and grooming for the upcoming PIs.Duration: Very similar in concept to the SoS, so just follow what works for the group. 3. System DemoAs part of a common understanding towards delivering incremental software, shortly after each iteration in the PI, there is a system demo scheduled. Work completed across all teams from the release train are compiled in a stable environment before it is reviewed by the business stakeholders and other important sponsors who may have a keen interest in the product. This is on top of the individual team level demos that happen after each iteration.Duration: Anywhere between 2-3 hours that will allow time for a demonstration of the program increment in a collative manner, on top of what has been delivered from the previous PIs as well.In case your ART is pretty small, then you may want to have just have some of the events combined into a more generic ART sync, where all roles come together to collaborate towards the program increment. This can sometimes occur if the ART is focusing on a particular value stream, confined to limited business functionality, rather than elaborate features.Solution/Portfolio LevelsAs you scale higher, the processes and events become much less prescriptive. There is a good reason for this because the focus at this level is not just on having repetitive demos that have already happened before but on building thought leadership around business outcomes and enhancing business agility. Which is why we will not be diving deep into that in this blog. But let us look at the events that occur at the macro level.Lean Budget Review  Idea Sharing via Communities of Practice (not a formal event but a collaborative group)Solution DemoPortfolio SyncRoadshowWhat are the benefits of SAFe Agile ceremonies?:The Magic of PI planningWell, the more I talk about this, the more excited I am. A PI planning event when carried out to its truest purpose, gets half the job done. Here is where most of the brainstorming occurs and business value gets determined and, in some cases, gets assigned in a quantifiable manner to user stories and helps with the prioritisation.PI Planning Synchronisation towards a common goalThe events are a constant reminder that all teams are working towards delivering incremental value either on a particular value stream, or feature or program. An RTE and Product Management will help reiterating the need to focus on the larger goal whilst helping sorting out inter team dependencies.Less prescriptiveAs is the framework itself, SAFe events/ceremonies are less prescriptive. An SPC would recommend, apply the principles but inspect and adapt as to what works for your organization. As per the example I provided earlier w.r.t to the duration of the SAFe events, start with something reasonable and then validate its effectiveness. Then leave Kaizen to do the rest.Visualization of incremental value deliveryOpportunity for Business stakeholders and sponsors to have a look at the overall program increment every iteration, thus helping them evaluate the progress and provide timely feedback on market trends. What are the common mistakes?Lack of a shared product visionThings can go wrong if there is not enough representation in the product management group, say for e.g at the PO Sync event. This can lead to a blurred product vision with each team working out of sync. This may ultimately get detected too late, probably at the time of the system demo, and lead to a whole lot of unwanted rework.SoS as a status updateThe Scrum Of Scrum event should be used as an event to unblock cross team impediments or dependencies and not to just update what each team has been doing or is doing in its current sprint. TimeboxingGiven the scale at which these events will be conducted, it is critical that the associated events are facilitated in a timeboxed manner or else the participants could end up sitting and talking for hours. Roles like RTE, SPC Coaches etc will be critical in addressing this issue.Remote facilitationLack of effective collaboration tools could lead to some disastrous situations whilst facilitating the SAFe events. Given that most teams are running virtual ceremonies/events at the moment, its crucial to establish a working distributed model. This will then ensure that the platform is set up for the most effective collaboration and cross-functional work to take place.While you try to scale, as per the implementation roadmap, its essential that you solidify the process around which your ARTs will be functioning. It’s like setting the railway tracks with the correct track gauge matching the configurations of the wheelsets of the trains that will run on them. If not, they will just derail. As your ARTs pass through your set process, they will only benefit by sustaining focus and pace while moving towards a successful incremental product delivery.Thanks for your patience and wish you all the very best in your Agile journey. In case you want me to write about any specific topic, please feel free to comment below and I’ll be more than happy to add them to my ‘Blog Backlog’. If you liked the article, please do share it among your agile community to help spread the word.  Hope to see you soon, with more such interesting topics.
Safe Agile Ceremonies - Expert Guide

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