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How Not to Freak Out When You’re Asked to be Both Product Manager and Product Owner

As a product professional, you may be familiar with the sometimes confusing roles of a Product Manager and Product Owner. While these two roles share some similarities, they also have distinct differences in their responsibilities and focus. However, there are benefits to taking on both roles and unifying your teams during the discovery phase of a product’s lifecycle – even though it is a heavier workload than most are expecting.

Coincidently, if you don’t have a technical background – to easily step into the role of a PO, or the strategic, entrepreneurial, or business background to fill that of a PM, this duality can be a bit frightening… like having multiple barrels pointed at your head. In this article, I’ll discuss the differences between the Product Manager and Product Owner roles and highlight the benefits I’ve experienced acting as both simultaneously inside multiple organizations, for over ten years.

Differences between the Product Owner vs. Product Manager

 As a Product Owner I was responsible for delivering a shippable product on time and under budget, defining and prioritizing the product backlog, and ensuring that the product met the needs of the market. In my roles as a Product Manager, on the other hand, I was responsible for the overall strategy and vision of the product, identifying market opportunities and creating a roadmap to achieve the product’s objectives, and representing the voice of the customer.

While the roles have different areas of focus, they both play a critical role in the success of the product. By taking on both roles, I was often times able to bring a more comprehensive view of the product to the table and ensure that the strategy was aligned with the customer’s needs, the stakeholder’s expectations, and the market opportunities.

Unifying your teams during the discovery phase

During the discovery phase of a product’s lifecycle, it was essential for me to unify all the teams to ensure we were all working towards a common goal. By taking on this duality of roles, it was easier for me to bring together the creative and technical teams to align their efforts towards the product’s goals.

I would often facilitate collaborative ideation sessions to identify the product’s vision, create a roadmap to achieve that vision, and establish a product backlog that aligns with the execution of the roadmap. By unifying our teams and aligning our efforts, I was able to ensure that the product was meeting the needs of the customer and the market, and that everyone was working towards the same objectives.

Making time for yourself to plan and research

As a both PM and PO, it was crucial for me to make time to plan and research. I’d use this time to review the product roadmap, identify areas for improvement, and research new tools, software, and best practices to improve your product development process.

By prioritizing weekly “Strategy Sessions with Myself”, I was able to stay on top of the technology that would move our industry forward, concerns about the current iteration of our product – which I used to make product enhancements, and even our competitors’ advancements in the space. As a bonus, sometimes I was able to identify opportunities to partner with companies whose products and services complemented our own – all allowing me to identify new market opportunities and adjust your product strategy accordingly.

Leveraging tools, software, and best practices

We’ve all had access to a wealth of tools, software, and best practices that can helped improved our product development process. And we often used these tools to track our product backlog, measure our product’s performance, and collaborate with our teams.

And while we have had our own unique experiences with the more popular platforms used in Product Management, grievances about their usefulness and how unproductive many of the “productivity tools” actually made us, I’ve learned it was easier – and less disruptive to the teams – to just find add-ons to help enhance our productivity instead of trying to have the platform replaced altogether.

By leveraging these add-ons and best practices, I was able to streamline my product development process, reduce waste, and improve our product’s quality. Gaining insights into our product’s performance and make data-driven decisions to improve the product was another benefit to the add-ons.

Effective communication between stakeholders and creative teams

Effective communication is critical to the success of any product development project. Once a vicious cycle of “Lost in Translation” between a PM and PO can easily derail a whole sprint. Knowing how to communicate with your creative team’s progress to curious stakeholders and how transparent to be with your technical teams is paramount when wearing two different hats in this manner. As both Product Manager and Product Owner, you’re always balancing a delicate set of fine China by way of proper communication between stakeholders and creative teams.

Ensuring that everyone was on the same page, expectations were clear, and that everyone was working towards the same objectives I’d often have to remember that being a two-way street, communicating with so many team leads, stakeholders and Business Units, made it easier to identify areas for improvement and provide constructive feedback to my team.

In conclusion, a major benefit of being both a Product Manager and Product Owner I was able to bring a comprehensive view of the product to the table and ensure that our product strategy is aligned with the customer’s needs and the market opportunities. By unifying our team, making time for myself to plan and research, leveraging tools and best practices, and also facilitating open communication, I was able to streamline my product development process and improve the quality of our product.

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