Why we need great product managers

…and not product owners or business analysts or project managers disguised as scrum masters — Welcome to job title potpourri.

I have noticed these roles being used interchangeably. The responsibilities are blurred.

I wrote a medium comment a little bit ago replying to someone who said they have never seen a good non-tech PM. Obviously, my product manager pride got offended.

It sounds like you’re mixing up project managers and non-tech PMs… [read more]

This got me thinking and here are those thoughts. Also, I am not reinventing the wheel here, because I made up my opinion based on articles and books I have read and experiences I made.

This is what happens in my real world

My official title is Product Owner, but it did not mean what I thought it did. I asked around in my company and got lots of different answers and I had my own ideas as well.

I recently heard another “Product Owner” say they wrote a business requirements document. Yes, I put PO in quotation marks here, because aren’t Project Managers the ones to write business requirement documents?

The POs then rely on their BA to write user stories for the team. Btw, we also have Scrum Masters that make sure we deliver on time and run “the rituals”. Again, those quotation marks. Call me old school, but I don’t see why a manager should be in a retro. Isn’t that counterproductive? And did you notice that I didn’t even say anything about the /deliver on time/ piece, it would just make me cry.

Another fun fact, we don’t even use Scrum in most of our teams. We do have division-wide rules about rituals though.

Overall, I feel like people don’t necessarily know what their role encompasses or they describe a role that I would have another name for. I can’t say who’s right or wrong, but I can give you my view of this mess.

Real quick: Product Manager vs. Product Owner

One of the most influential posts on the topic has been “Product Manager vs Product Owner” by Melissa Perri.

Product Owner is a role you play on a Scrum team. Product Manager is the job.

If you take your Scrum team away, if you take Scrum away as a process for your organization, you are still a Product Manager. Product Management and Scrum work together well, but Product Management is not dependent on Scrum. It can and should exist with any framework or process.

I cannot put this any better, so I just added my favourite quote. I call this “being energy-efficient”.

I understand that my workplace chose Product Owner as a title for their digital product managers, oh.

There are so many roles… what’s everyone doing?

We don’t only have Product Owners, we have bunch of more or less project-manager-in-disguise roles to offer.

Outcome Managers, Scrum Masters and Business Analysts are thrown into the mix. If you come across a great scrum master or business analyst who work according to agile methodologies, show empathy and have generally great humans in them, those roles can be amazing, don’t get me wrong.

If they’re just used to have another person ensuring “we deliver on time and within budget”, you’re doing it wrong.

Often times, these roles are hired because there’s a different problem that they’re trying to fix. And they believe that this “agile” can probably help. Whoever “they” might be.

Here’s a piece of advise, you cannot fix culture or mind set by renaming positions to whatever the cool kids call it now. The cool kids in this example are the agile nerds, btw.

What I am trying to say is:

I am a Product Manager!

I will say it loud and I will say it proud, I am a product manager!

And here is what I am trying to do every day:

Make strategy happen!

Jason Shen made that distinction in his article “What People Don’t Tell You About Product Management” and it hit a nerve for me!

A product manager or rather I as a product manager want to make strategy happen. As part of a big company I don’t get to decide on strategic goals, but I work towards achieving them.

  • I make sure that our product vision and goals are aligned to this strategy.
  • I communicate this strategy to everyone from stakeholders to team members all the time. I know PMs can be so annoying.
  • I make sure my team does not only know but understands the strategy, the vision and the goals.
  • I break down our goals into chunks of work together with my team, because they are experts on design, programming, delivery and testing. Chunks can be anything from a release to an epic to a user story, it just gets smaller and smaller.
  • I make a sensible plan, so we deliver customer value iteratively.
  • I cheer on my team and I defend my team. Scope creep is a thing!
  • I defend my product’s quality and value. Faster is not always better, deliberate on it with the team.
  • I research my market and understand my customer and their desires and needs, pains and fears.
  • I base my decisions on data.

Everything I do in my day-to-day maps back to this list of things. And this will give me the foundations to deliver high-quality, valuable product iterations to my customer quickly, but also grant enough flexibility to pivot if need be.

And that’s why we need great product managers!

Product management roles can be as different as chalk and cheese. What’s your title and what do you actually do? I am looking forward to discovering all the variety!

About me: I am Lisa Mo, that’s short for Monika, 34, passionate about product management, agile methodologies, learning (right now web development), craft beer and makeup. I moved to the Great White North aka Toronto a few months ago. I am always happy to connect and chat about my experiences and what I have learned so far, sharing knowledge is fun!

If you liked this, your applause is much appreciated! You can also find me on Twitter and all the PM slack teams, like Hands on Agile, ProductStack or Mind The Product, etc.

Product strategist, decision facilitator, team enabler, problem solver, design sprinter, agile enthusiast, intersectional feminist.

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