The difference is simple: product owners deal with the what? and why? questions, while project managers deal with the how? and when?. The former concentrates on thinking about what to build, based on the capabilities of the team, which are the concern of the latter. OK, I guess it’s not that simple - you can’t answer just in one sentence! Let me tell you a bit more how it works.
Both of these roles are crucial for the project’s success. The PO is responsible for coming up with and defining the scope of the project while the PM takes care of execution and delivery.
The product owner is preferably the project’s key stakeholder. who engages all other stakeholders (users and customers, senior management, marketing, sales or customer support) and connects them with the development team. They:
This role demands thorough understanding of customer needs, stakeholder management and basic knowledge of software development and UX design.
Leadership and communication skills are the keys to this role. Due to their closeness to the development team - a strong and involved PO is a crucial success factor for a project.
Ideally, working directly with the team means:
Other responsibilities of the PO are creating a product roadmap based on strategy and market research, product lifecycle management, and dealing with the business model and finances. Seems like there is a lot on the plate, right?
Usually, the Project Manager is responsible for delivering the project on time, on schedule and on budget. They work with the team to ensure that the value is delivered according to plan and everyone is working on the right items in the correct order to accomplish the project goals.
However, in companies which work with Agile and have project managers (that's us!), this role has evolved and takes on a slightly different form - relying on the product manager’s skills in communication, facilitation, coordination, with less of an emphasis on planning and control. So, basically, it’s a person helping the team to work together, without any “managerial” authority hanging over their heads.
The project manager is a member of a self-managing team, who gives the PO the convenience of a single point of contact with the team. However, the PM shouldn't work like a filter between the development team and the product owner - they should have direct contact with each other. The project manager should take care of summing up all discussions and making sure everyone is on the same page.
In this case, the PM’s duties are:
It’s about ensuring that everything goes smoothly and that all decisions are documented and clear to everyone.
There is also no rule saying that the project manager cannot help and get involved in other ways, for example, by helping to define product backlog items, sprint planning or backlog refinement.
The Agile team project management method is about keeping perfect transparency and collaboration with the customer. It’s about making sure that in each iteration we’re delivering working software, receiving feedback in good time and adjusting as a team. Responding to change rather than following a plan.
Netguru’s project manager job is grounded in the Agile method and reflects our main values: quality, communication, and transparency. We make sure to include our clients in the creation process and assist team members in their work while assuring delivery of the best quality products.
Weekly calls: We’ll schedule at least one call with the client/product owner per week to sum up the previous iteration, gather feedback and plan the next tasks.
Call summaries: Weren’t able to join the call this week or missed something during the call? No worries - we’ll always send you a summary after the call.
Team standups: By organising team stand-ups we make sure the members communicate with each other, everyone knows what to do and has a clear plan for the day.
Managing JIRA: We’ll add necessary tasks, release bars and organize JIRA so that it’s clear to everyone where we are with the work. We’ll make sure that the tickets are well described and clear to everyone, especially the developers who are going to work on them.
Project reviews: We’ll make sure to organise frequent project reviews to keep the quality, technology and architecture of the project as good as possible. We’ll pay attention to deadlines, releases, agreed acceptance criteria and possible changes in the project scope, technology or features.
We track progress and try to define milestones of the project.
We need both the product owner and the project manager on board. Together, we’ve got the power to act strong and effectively!
As you can see from this comparison, both these roles are crucial and connected to each other. That’s what you need to develop a great product and make working on the project smooth and satisfying for everyone. Both jobs require particular skills and experience, and it takes the right person to make them work.
We love to share our knowledge about project management. If you'd like to take part in our workshop focusing on soft skills and technical aspects of a project manager’s daily work, sign up at our PM workshop page. The next one is coming soon to Poznań! Give it a try and I promise, you won’t regret it!
Communication with clients is the everyday reality of project managers. Here's our top secret cheat sheet how to do it right - don't tell anyone! Just kidding, share it anywhere you wish :).