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Do project managers traditionally make great Product Owners?

Yes, they do. Although it can require a shift in perception and focus.

The Pros

Project Managers have great skill sets.

They work closely with stakeholders, are great at communications, and excel in managing elements such as cost and risk.

These are vital skills for a product owner.

Project Managers have a strong sense of quality control and have developed a great eye for building the right thing, in the right way, at the right time.

Also, vital skills for a product owner.

The Cons

Some of the other elements of project management don’t translate as well.

A project manager carries a great deal of authority and is often involved in the details of who, where, when and how.

A product owner acts as the CEO of the product but doesn’t get involved in who builds the product and how they build the product.

That is the domain of the development team.

A product owner has a great deal of influence but does not carry the authority that a project manager would in the same circumstances.

The Shift

A transition to a product ownership role involves taking greater ownership for the product vision and mission.

They ‘why’ behind the product.

  • Why is it worth building the product or creating the feature?
  • How will this delight customers?

Product is an important keyword.

Project Managers traditionally work on projects whilst product owners tend to work on product development and continuous improvement that delights customers.

It is a significant shift in focus.

In project management, the project manager is traditionally focused on delivery of the project within strict cost parameters and time deadlines.

In complicated environments, the how is known upfront and it is simply a matter of delivery within cascading deadlines to ensure that the right thing is built.

In product development, the how is often unknown.

It requires creativity and collaboration from intelligent, creative, and highly skilled individuals to create something that has never been made before or to solve a problem that has never been solved before.

This is the domain of complexity.

A product owner is focused on having the development team build the most valuable product.

How that is to be built is often outside the capabilities of a product owner.

The developers have the necessary skills and capabilities to do so.

So, a product owner works closely with the development team to ensure that the most valuable product is built, or the most compelling problems are solved.

It becomes a matter of collaboration and influence rather than traditional authority.

Many project managers like the authority they hold and take a great deal of satisfaction in rolling up their sleeves and working on all the nuts and bolts of a project.

A product owner requires that same level of dedication to the product and customer but focuses on collaboration with the development team to achieve the result.

A product owner does carry a great deal of authority when it comes to what is being built and when that product or feature is released.

Ultimately, they are the CEO of the product and that does carry a lot of responsibility and authority. It simply requires a very different set of skills to achieve goals and objectives when compared to how a project manager works.

If you are interested in becoming a product owner, visit the Certified Scrum Product Owner course page for more information. Also, see the Advanced Certified Scrum Product Owner course page for an idea on progression within the Product Owner role.

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