Mapping the Product Manager Role to the Product Owner Role

The Jobs Are Different

25 February 2014

Sriramasundararajan Rajagopalan
Physicians Interactive

The challenge

The increasing attention to migrate toward Agile and use the Scrum framework for product development needs to be carefully weighed against the specific roles Scrum calls for. Too often, questions arise as to whether a product manager is the same as a product owner, or whether a subject matter expert, functional lead, or a project manager can serve in the product owner role. Scrum is not a plug-and-play environment that will guarantee that product development will succeed. If improperly managed, the product development will not adequately scale to the customer's requirements, which will increase costs, impact return on investment, and lead to instability.

Deeper dive: The product manager's responsibilities

To properly implement Scrum, some of the core foundational concepts for success have to be understood. These concepts require a deeper understanding of the responsibilities associated with the product manager (Haines 2012, Gorchels 2012) in an organization and an evaluation of the match based on the organizational product initiatives and unique industry requirements. An added challenge many organizations may face when adopting Scrum is that there may be groups or individuals who assumed their current roles without necessarily having the skills for them. Buckingham and Coffman (1999) discuss how this spell has to be broken for product management success (p. 95).

To reset expectations clearly, it becomes important to reestablish the ground for the core responsibilities expected of a product manager across the product life cycle stages of idea generation, feasibility analysis, design, development, build, marketing, validation, sustainability, and retirement. Such an attempt -- please note that it is only an attempt -- is as follows, using the popular RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) approach. The activities for this exercise were derived from seminal thinkers (Kotler and Keller 2006), case study authors (Thompson, Strickland, and Gamble 2005), practitioner insights (Haines 2012, Gorchels 2012), and from numerous online job placement requests across the various product life cycle phases.

Product Life Cycle Phases and Activities Map   Conceive Build Validate Service
Brief Description of Activities in the Phases   Idea Generation, Feasibility Analysis Design, Develop, Test Marketing, Training, Metrics, ROI Sustain or Retire
Marketing strategy and detailed marketing plan as part of the product planning   A A A
Product strategy -- new and differentiating products   A R A A
Brand management -- establishing, building, and managing brand equity    A A A
Portfolio of products   RC RC CI CI
Product life cycle management understanding, primary and supporting activities espoused by Porter   A A A A
Identifying market opportunity / compliance, regulations, market trends, consumer behaviors, industry concentration   A A A A
Five forces model and strategy promoted by Porter   A A A
Identifying and placing products by position and pricing   A A A
Promoting, advertising, and marketing products   A A A A
Identifying and managing channels of distribution   A A A A
Pro-forma / forecasting of products   A A A A
BCG consulting matrix (product maturity versus retirement)   A  I R A
Service offerings as a product   A R A
Globalizing products   A A A A
Leadership and management, including product vision and portfolio management   A A R R
Social responsibility (communicating about products' nonfinancial implications in the community -- being a corporate citizen)    A  R R A
Metrics, controls, audits using organizational key performance indicators (KPI) for ROI   A A A A
Training -- sales materials   A A R R

Deeper dive: The product owner's responsibilities

It is inexorably clear that the current traditional product manager's responsibilities involve both strategic thinking and tactical execution components. The organizational structure, size, geographical distribution, global product line, and regulatory complexity may put extreme demands on a product manager to execute these existing tasks diligently to ensure that the right product is developed with the right features at the right time. Organizations adopting the Scrum development framework will find that they are placing additional responsibilities on the product manager. Using RACI again, and synthesizing insights from Cohn (2012) and Schwaber (2004), let us map these responsibilities:

Product Owner Responsibilities   Conceive Build Validate Service
Brief Description of Activities in the Phases   Idea generation, Feasibility Analysis Design, Develop, Test Marketing, Training, Metrics, ROI Sustain or Retire
Supply chain (manufactured products) / incremental build (software products)   A R CI I
BCG consulting matrix (product maturity versus retirement)   A  I R A
Service offerings as a product   A R A
Globalizing products   A A A A
Managing the process (following the work flow, scope creep / sprint lock, backlog grooming, voice of customer)   A A A
Product management (backlog Identification, ownership, grooming, prioritization)   A A A A
Communication (sprint reviews, stakeholder for sprint / releases/projects, ROI evaluation, forward looking -- backlog of open items, risk assessment)   A  A
Metrics, controls, and audits to manage Scrum-specific metrics (velocity, burn rate, etc.)   A A A A
Operationalize the product through training and necessary documentation to meet regulatory needs   A A R R
Customer management -- instances of product implementation for specific customers    C R R I

Demystifying role clashes

The above exercise using RACI to evaluate the traditional product manager and the Scrum product owner responsibilities reveals how much accountability is getting added to the product manager's role. While each organization can reflect on how much the traditional product manager focuses on all of these activities, the addition of Scrum-specific responsibilities of increased availability for the Scrum team brings to the surface a few questions about the stability of product development with the scalability promised by Scrum. Extending on the Agile challenges when Scrum roles fail to perform their responsibilities (Schwaber 2004, Cohn 2012), some observations from this exercise are as follows:
  • While almost all the product managers devote themselves to the product and its marketing strategy, their time is consumed by this market research and following through to customers and partners. Therefore, they may lack the time to initiate, maintain, and groom the product backlog with the user stories, work with the team on functional and nonfunctional elements of the product, and constantly prioritize them at the frequent intervals called for by the Scrum product development practice.
  • A product manager's priority is the core role of market research and product strategies. If the product manager tries to fit in additional time to understand Scrum product owner responsibilities, he may find that he is compromising the time spent on the core role. As a result, he may not learn and master the required Scrum-specific product owner skills, which will offset the promises offered by Scrum, because the Scrum team will become dysfunctional without an informed product owner.
  • The increased Scrum-specific responsibilities may also make a product manager miss external threats and opportunities, such as the new regulatory and audit requirements impacting her product. For instance, how knowledgeable is the product manager in areas as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act regarding internal and disclosure audit controls, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for health care, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley (GLBA) compliance requirements for financial controls, the Prescription and Drug Marketing Act (PDMA), and Sunshine Act impacting pharmaceutical marketing? Not understanding these regulations and nuances in the regional and global arenas can impact the product in its penetration, diversification, disintermediation, and expansion in niche segments.
  • A product owner, in the Scrum world, has to understand that the team will also focus on controlling technical debt. If their time on refactoring and requests for continuous build and incorporation of automation testing is construed by the traditional product manager as a non-value add to the business compared to taking over developing business requirements documents, developing and maintaining user stories for them, or accessing reports from the business intelligence tools themselves to run these metrics, then the organization is failing Scrum.
  • In organizations where the product manager not only manages one product but a suite of products within a product portfolio, the need for that person to not only understand the business and industry side but also the internal organizational platform, development practices, and systems and tools may challenge his or her ability to scale to the organization's needs and stabilize product development.


It is evident that the traditional product manager may be pressed to manage the expectations of the external client and address the questions for the internal teams if he or she is expected to switch over to the responsibilities of a Scrum product owner. When organizations require key opinion leaders (KOLs) who currently serve as product managers to take on the product owner roles espoused by Scrum, then these organizations need to not only redefine the responsibilities of product manager but also create the product owner role for Scrum to succeed. To facilitate this role differentiation and for Scrum to scale and stabilize, projected below are the differentiating responsibilities for the product manager and product owner roles, synthesizing recommendations from Haines (2012), Gorchels (2012), and Cohn (2012):

Product Manager Product Owner
1. Understand the market trends, competitor forces, and regional and global industry regulations
2. Own the product vision and initiate the product road map, articulating the epics and features that should seed the product backlog
3. Perform GAP analysis on the technical, operational, and environment considerations for new product development (NPD) and differentiating/expanding products
4. Pricing strategies and evaluating the product positioning against BCG consulting matrix to invest, sustain, or retire products
5. Roll up product dashboard and provide additional, periodical, and frequent communications to the external clients and partners
6. Final approval authority for ROI evaluation, legal, and regulatory documents
7. Liaise with sales and operations and other internal organization members, such as product owner, to know more about the voice of the client with a customer engagement plan (CEP) and update the product road map
8. Be the voice of the product owner to management for Agile resource management (personnel, automation tools, work flow tools)
1. Initiate and translate product road map into manageable product backlog
2. Manage, adjust for risk, and prioritize product backlog
3. Be available for team in all the Scrum ceremonies
4. Differentiate and understand the relationship between product development and project management
5. Operationalize the product into the mainstream organization focusing on sales-to-implementation efficiency
6. Become familiar with the organizational development practices, platform requirements, and project management framework
7. Manage product dashboard and communications to internal teams
8. Understand the primary activities and supporting process activities for value maximization
9. Be able to connect with clients in the product manager's absence
10. Liaise with product manager to understand the features and changes in product requirements and support the release planning and sprint planning exercises
11. Understand Agile estimation approaches and allow the team to manage itself
12. Push the product manager and pull the team to maintain continuous velocity stream, ensure quality, eliminate escaped defects, and motivate team

As the organizations evolve in the Scrum journey, a career path can be established on which someone in project management, development, or product development can become a product owner by first learning the core Scrum responsibilities. Then such members can absorb the product manager roles in a phased approach through additional focused training and knowledge transfer.

Buckingham M and Coffman C. First, Break All the Rules. 1999. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.


Cohn M. Succeeding with Agile: Software Development Using Scrum. 2012. Ann Arbor, MI: Addison Wesley.

Gorchels L. The Product Manager's Handbook. 2012. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Haines S. Managing Product Management. 2012. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Kotler P and Keller KL. Marketing Management. 2006. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Schwaber K. Agile Project Management with Scrum. 2004. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Press.

Thompson AA, Strickland AJ, Gamble JE. Crafting and Executing Strategy: The Quest for Competitive Advantage. 2005. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 3.8 (4 ratings)


Zach Bonaker, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 2/25/2014 11:52:36 AM
Wonderful article and I appreciate your taking time to perform a literature review. It's refreshing to have an article make good use of prior work.

You draw interesting conclusions that open the door to further research and testing. At my organization, we've simply handed the role of product owner to existing traditional product managers... we certainly have all of the symptoms you conclude with.

I may start looking into research & testing some of your hypotheses. It would make an interesting follow up article. Thank you for contributing this!
Sriramasundararajan Rajagopalan, CSP,CSM,CSD,CSPO, 3/3/2014 9:40:38 PM
Thanks Zach. Glad you were able to relate to my hypotheses. Would be more than happy to collaborate with you on your research to validate the findings.
Katherine Champion, CSM,CSPO, 7/28/2014 3:06:07 AM
I agree with Zach, this is a great article which clearly articulates the difference between the Scrum (agile) Product Manager and Product Owner roles and responsibilities better than I could have. The RACI matrices is very useful as well as the concise summary which will help me to introduce the role of Product Owner into my organisation. Thanks for the time taken to document this for the Scrum community. I concur with your conclusions re: the introduction of the Product Owner role.

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