PM vs. PO: The Bridge Between Agile and the Business

We’ve heard lots of discussion on how to fit Product Owners into organizations.  The answer is often  “It depends” … but we don’t see much discussion of the primary driver of that decision.  It’s not your culture, not the org chart, or the existing skill sets. Or necessarily what your Agile consultant/coach recommends.  It depends on whether you’re in a commercial software organization, or working with an internal IT team, developing solutions that support the main line of business.  So no matter what industry you’re in, this article could help you figure out how you can most effectively work with an Agile software development team.

The Org Chart Says…

If you ask people who are working with commercial software companies, they’ll tell you that the Product Manager manages multiple Product Owners, one for each Scrum team.

If you ask people who are working in IT, they’ll tell you that Product Owners come from the business side and work with Program or Product managers, one for each Scrum team.

Who’s right? Well, both, sometimes. It depends!

But if You Follow the Money…

But here’s another view that we think identifies the underlying principle, regardless of the type of organization you’re in.

Agile PM-PO org chart MO smallInstead of a Product Owner, let’s call this new Agile role the Money Owner.  The MO is the one responsible for either revenue (in a commercial software org), or the budget (in an internal IT org).  In an IT context, the MO is the subject matter expert and/or primary business stakeholder, and may be a Product Manager in one of the organization’s lines of business.  In a software company, the MO is responsible for the product’s commercial success in the marketplace (and is often also be a subject matter expert).  Once you determine who the Money Owner is, then you can determine the rest of the skill sets needed to bridge from the MO to the Dev Team.  The skill set you need could be found in one of many titles in your current organization – Product Manager, Program Manager, Project Manager, Business Analyst, Requirements Analyst, or UX Designer, to name a few.

Don’t Hire Product Owners

To avoid further confusion, we’d suggest that the “Product Owner” or “Money Owner” designation not be turned into a formal job description within the organization.  We suggest that people keep whatever title they’ve had in the past, and that MO be an added designation for a relationship to a Scrum team that denotes not only financial accountability, but also subject matter expertise with the ability to identify business value and guide priorities based on it.  Then, perhaps the org chart doesn’t matter so much and we can all get back to work!

Two Final Thoughts
First, you might want to download our free “PO/PM/MO” worksheet to help your organization sort out who will do what as you engage on your next Scrum effort.

Second, if your organization is busy getting certified in Scrum or any other form of Agile software development, consider an Agile Product Management Intensive workshop for your team.  You’ll learn to apply Agile practices to product management principles and skills so you can work most effectively with your Agile team.

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