Agile FAQ

How does a Scrum Product Owner differ from a traditional Product Manager?

How does a Scrum Product Owner differ from a traditional Product Manager?

While both roles are responsible for leading product development, a Product Owner role is typically closely associated with a shift to an Agile mindset and Agile ways of working, whereas a Product Manager role is often more associated with a traditional development approach. That said, you might encounter scenarios where both co-exist and the PO has a more tactical role where the PM has a more strategic role.

In more detail...

In traditional organizations, a Product Manager (PM) often operates within a more hierarchical and linear development process, such as the Waterfall methodology, which contrasts with the Agile mindset of a Scrum Product Owner (PO). The PM's role in traditional settings is broader, encompassing both strategic and tactical product-related decisions. They focus on market research, product strategy, roadmap planning, and feature specification, often with detailed requirements specified upfront before development starts. This approach assumes that the product's needs can be fully understood and planned for at the beginning, leading to a rigid development process where changes are difficult and costly to implement.

The PM typically works in silos, with less frequent and direct communication with the development team, leading to a hand-off approach where requirements are passed down, and the development team works independently to deliver the product. This separation can result in misalignment between what's built and what the market needs, as feedback loops are longer and adjustments are slower.

Contrastingly, a Scrum PO embodies Agile principles, working closely with the development team in short, iterative cycles to continuously refine and prioritize the product backlog based on user feedback and changing market conditions. This role emphasizes flexibility, direct collaboration with team members, and stakeholder engagement to adapt quickly. Activities like detailed, long-term planning and extensive documentation, common for traditional PMs, are minimized in favor of working software and customer collaboration.

The mindset difference is stark: traditional PMs may prioritize adherence to the plan and specifications, while Scrum POs value adaptability, customer value, and incremental delivery. The Scrum PO's approach is fundamentally about embracing change and uncertainty as part of the development process, which is a departure from the predict-and-plan mentality of traditional product management.