When you’re the Product Owner and the Product Manager

According to Agile and Scrum best practices, product owners and product managers should be two different people. As many have written before, the two jobs have notably different goals and areas of focus.

In an idealized vision of product development in an Agile setting, product owners handle the tactical execution of product strategy while product managers concentrate on managing that strategy. Both must be on the same page, but their day-to-day tasks differ significantly.

But not every company has the luxury of two different people dedicated solely to one of these roles. If you work at a startup, fulfilling both responsibilities may not be uncommon. If you are in this predicament, why not read and learn more?

Tips for Succeeding as a Product Owner and a Product Manager

Here are a few pointers on making it all work for those doing both of these jobs.

Practice radical acceptance

Whether you’re a product owner asked to be a product manager or a product manager saddled with product owner duties, there’s little upside in stewing about the situation. Your boss or someone higher up the corporate ladder thinks this is a good idea, and they’re not alone. There’s an entire school of thought that firmly believes the same person should always do both of these jobs.

Once you stop agitating against your dual role, you can seek out the positives. You now have unrivaled exposure to the entire product development lifecycle. You’ll have an unmatched ability to influence things accordingly as the product owner. Furthermore, you remain deeply involved in the implementation.

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Make the most of the opportunity

You may feel like you have to do the job of two people, which may be difficult. However, you have the unique chance to add some key new skills and experiences. You’ll now have in-depth, first-hand knowledge of being a product owner and a product manager.

Furthermore, you’ll see how the other half lives and work more closely with additional teams and colleagues. This adds exponentially to your professional network and gives you a shot at creating more allies and supporters internally, meaning you’ll have the trust and respect of a broader audience.

Product owner vs. product manager

Additionally, by working closely with engineering and the scrum master, the product owner role will boost your Agile and Scrum knowledge and experience, which may help you in various stages of your career regardless of whether you pursue more senior roles on the product management track or as a product owner/Agile practitioner.

Meanwhile, working as a product manager gives you a ton of visibility into many different aspects of the organization. You’ll be a known quantity to much of the management team and many other senior employees of the company.

Product management also increases your exposure to customers and their real-world behavior. You’ll understand the various user and buyer personas. Moreover, you will understand the overall market forces influencing your product.

As a bonus, by doing both jobs, you’ll get a much better sense of which one you ultimately prefer and might want to hold as your career path progresses. Due to the overview of your strategy, you’ll be a true product expert. With this experience, you can make decisions and recommendations with authority.

Make discovery a group effort

When you’re “only” a product manager, you have the time and space to dig into customer feedback. You do this through interviews, site visits, and other feedback collection methods. But when you’re also the product owner, there’s naturally less space on your calendar for these activities.

A big time saver and efficiency multiplier are to include other people in the research process. These stakeholders may come from engineering and marketing. You serve less as a “middleman” and more of a facilitator. These folks will now have their own first-hand experience with customer feedback, possess much more context, and have a more nuanced view of the customer, their problems, and other related variables.

This inclusive approach should also save you time down the line. For example, product marketing will know more about how customers think about the problem and your product. Furthermore, the development team can better connect the dots between the features and product offerings.

Prioritize yourself

Just like a project manager optimizes resource allocation, you need to meet yourself out wisely. Being a product manager means accepting that you can’t do everything you’d like to do.  Adding on other product owner responsibilities only heightens this dilemma. To survive and thrive, you’ve got to prioritize what matters most regarding impact, quality control, and overall goals and objectives.

Rationing yourself across the many demands of this two-headed job requires a keen awareness of how much personal involvement’s required for each task on your plate. Delegating may occasionally be an option, but the double PM/PO rarely has any underlings to pass things onto. Therefore, work with your colleagues and both the engineering management and product management leadership to identify what you can potentially move off your plate.

But even after offloading a bit of work, there will still be more to-do items than hours in a workday, so you must be smart with your time. That may mean skipping some non-essential tasks altogether or merely lowering your standards on some to get everything done.

Ultimately it’s always a judgment call, but when you simply can’t do everything, it makes sense to focus on where you’re adding the most value… and where your absence might inflict the most damage.

For example, skimping on documentation can save some time, and it’s not like Agile practitioners are huge fans of lengthy requirements specs. Keep what’s written down limited to a higher level and serve the broadest audience.

Leverage tools and best practices

There’s no reason to start from scratch or take the DIY product ownership/management approach. You can add a bevy of products to your product stack to streamline, document, and organize data and processes.

From managing ideas and prioritizing to creating a theme-based visual roadmap to tracking bugs during sprints, solutions built with product development in time can save you tons of time every step of the way. With templates and predefined workflows, these tools remove the heavy lifting and make keeping things updated and accurate a snap.

They’ll also facilitate easier, automated communications with stakeholders across the entire organization, so you can spend less time ensuring everyone’s on the same page and more time writing the next one.

You’ll Never Be Bored

Whenever you find yourself jointly handling both product owner and product manager duties, it’s a near guarantee that you’ll always have various tasks to take care of. The quantity might be overwhelming, but the variety should keep things fresh and engaging.

Try timeboxing or creating a personal schedule to ensure you hit everything important and don’t give a particular key area short shrift. This also reduces the amount of content switching, which can be a real killer for a product manager.

If you’re tracking your time, you’ll also spot trends and patterns to help you optimize in the future. For instance, your PO plate may be heavier during the middle of the release cycle, while the PM crown weighs heavier during the earlier and later parts of the process.

There’s no question that fulfilling these roles’ responsibilities in tandem is a tall order. But with some intentionality, IMPACT thinking, and time management, you can rise to the occasion and use it as a springboard for bigger and better things in the future.

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