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Tips for Optimising the Product Manager and Product Owner Relationship

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In today’s competitive digital product landscape, it’s never been more important to have an aligned product management team in your organisation. In this read, we’ll go over how businesses can optimise the relationship between Product Managers and Product Owners.

In some organisations, those roles overlap.

Both product roles are about ensuring that the right product is built according to the needs of the customer and the business. They both depend on using data to reach proactive decisions, and to identify product trends early. At its simplest:

Product managers (PM) collaborate with the business stakeholders, focus on product features, and the viability of each product being developed by the product team.

Product owners (PO) are (in most cases) responsible for maximising product value by prioritising and managing worklists. They will work closely with engineering teams and marketers to maintain product quality.

The main difference between the PO and PM is that the PO will be focused more internally, ensuring the product is designed and developed according to consumer needs. The PM will be working with a more external focus, managing portfolios, establishing a business case for a product, conducting competitor analysis, and establishing the end of life protocols.

Despite these differences, there can be an intersection between the responsibilities of the PM and PO. To get the maximum efficiency and productivity between the two roles, the relationship between them must be clearly optimised.

1. Defining Responsibility

With such overlap between the roles being extremely common, the first step should always be to clearly define the responsibilities of both. This will vary depending on the size of the organisation, the number of products being sold (or in development), and the architecture of the organisation.

Smaller organisations and start-ups, in particular, tend to assign one person as both PO and PM. In rare cases, this can be acceptable but it leads to many potential issues, especially if the business starts to scale rapidly.

Without clearly defining the role and the responsibilities of each position, overlap, cross-communication, and working from opposing viewpoints can become frequent. That leads to mistakes and workflow roadblocks.

For business owners and department managers, the key is to understand fully what the role of a product manager is and what the role of a product owner should be. From there, clear guidelines need to be established so that there is a defined roadmap for each role. That way, both the PO and PM will have clarified duties and responsibilities, without the risk of that dangerous overlap.

2. Involve the Team

The PO and the PM will rarely work in isolation and will be backed up by teams. They aren’t the only teams that need to be involved. From the marketing department to the engineers, everyone should touch base regularly.

Products don’t materialise out of thin air and require a lot of input across multiple stages of development. Developing the right products demands being aware of the context of the product, having a clearly defined target audience, and understanding what that audience wants from the product.

Regular meetings with the teams that understand the technical side of things, the marketing options, and the current market are more important than ever. By making sure that everyone in the organisation is working from a product mindset with the same information and towards the same goals, efficiency and impact will be improved.

The aim of these meetings should also be clearly defined, with achievable landmarks. Regardless of their department and responsibilities, everyone will be working towards the same goal. That’s why time spent ensuring that the engineers and business analysts understand the focus of domain knowledge and marketing opportunities is so valuable.

The strategy and the product roadmap decisions that are created with input from so many different perspectives results in stronger products. It can also ease workloads by letting every member of the team see the big picture, leading to self-sufficiency as they get to work.

3. Use the Right Tools

Today, businesses have access to more technology, more tools, and more cutting-edge resources than they’ve ever had. There are so many product-related tools available that even starting to learn about them can be overwhelming.

However, both the PO and the PM should have access to the most valuable tools and resources if their collaboration and productivity is to be optimised. For product managers, there are some excellent product management tools on the market, many of which will make workloads significantly easier to manage.

Likewise, product owners should be able to have access to the tools that will give them the insights that they need. With options like Pendo for tracking and analysis, customer survey tools like Typeform, or even basic recording apps that let the PO record interviews with customers, each PO should have the tools that they need.

Fail to provide the cutting-edge technologies that will ease workloads and streamline everything in the product pipeline, and the result will be a stunted workflow and a weaker product.

4. Define Methodologies and Frameworks

The larger an organisation, the more complex the environment. If the organisation is using a forced fixed methodology, then it will be naturally less effective. The most common frameworks for ‘business efficiency’ are:

  • Agile
  • Kanban
  • Scrum
  • Waterfall
  • Lean
  • Six Sigma

There are many more. While there are pros and cons to each of these, larger businesses especially should try to avoid forcing them into an already established business framework. Startups need to assess each one before building their architecture around the chosen option.

Before implementing any fixed framework into the product life cycle, make sure that it will not disrupt the existing working methods and information flow that you have in place. This can lead to miscommunication between the PO and the PM. The domino effect will lead to sub-par products, missed deadlines, and stress for every member of the organisation.

5. Become Advocates

An often underused strategy for both the PM and the PO is to have them become vocal and public advocates for the product and the organisation. In a best-case scenario, the PO and the PM will be actively involved in the marketing of the product, and not just as in-house experts.

Effective product managers and owners should speak at industry events, create content, and have a high level of visibility at trade shows. That’s because they will have been involved in every stage of product development from conception to ideation, and can offer high-value insights that other members of the team will not have.

That knowledge extends to more than simple product promotion. It can also act as an avenue for brand awareness building and will help to build brand trust. From discussing in-house work processes to advising on how they collaborate, POs and PMs should work hand in hand to deliver maximum visibility for the brand and the product.

In organisations where there is a brand manager, they too should be working alongside the PO and the PM, ensuring that consistency is maintained. Working as a trio can make brand ambassadorship easier to manage and much more dynamic.

Conclusion

Product managers and product owners need to work together if they are to support their teams and their organisation. They must be able to stay in sync across the entire development and product onboarding process. From market impact to using technology to fully optimise a product, different responsibilities shouldn’t lead to information roadblocks.

Organisations need to be structured so that the PO and the PM can communicate efficiently and effectively across every touchpoint. Build on a foundation of that collaboration, and the result will be a stronger product catalogue and a more efficient business model.

Gavin Rae

Gavin Rae

Co-Founder/Managing Director at Product Rocket. We are a consulting company in Digital Product Management and Product Design. We help our customers hone their Product Maturity by working on Product Strategy and Product Organisation along with in-house assignments and training.

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