Product Manager? Product Owner? Service Owner?

In recent weeks, I have been in conversations with people inside as well as outside the company about how to effect cloud-enabled transformation.

There are new certitudes in play. “We must be cloud native,” “We are going to be agile” (maybe lean as well?), “We aspire to deliver faster using continuous delivery/ continuous integration”, and of course, “We’ll treat infrastructure as code.”

I think I may need to include DevOps or DevSecOps — but out of sheer perversity, let me add Finance to it and call it DevSecFinOps.

The small fly in the ointment is, well, a bunch of silos, lack of skills and no clear roadmap on how to get the as-is model to the to-be model.  Often the tech stack, the architecture and the development model are the easy bits; there’s lots of blogs, articles, training, etc that can take a small team and enable them in the new technology and practices.

One can hire experts, but also provide training in the new stack to the engineers, and one can get going. Add some Agile training or SAFE if that’s your environment (People argue for and against SAFE — not the subject of this blog).

All of this can get an organization started on the road to cloud in some shape.

But I have a question, who is the product owner? Or who is the product manager? I wrote about this role back in 2011 and it’s still astounds me that enterprises don’t have a ready answer. My friend Wayne Greene has a good blog and book on the product management topic.

And yet the role is unclear.  I think the product owner role in Agile needs to be made more explicit.  My question starts with: how much power does the role have? Can they change requirements? Push launch dates? Do they own the success of the product? To use an old adage, are they the CEO of the product?

I have owned the role in small software companies, in my own startup as CEO, CTO,  and in some very, very large companies. And while it varies, the ultimate responsibility of the role is to drive the success of the business through product innovation aligned with the company strategy and the sales channel.

Product managers should not have to be empowered; they must have the power to drive the product. If your digital transformation or org model does not have the role and the functions it manages in place, you should treat as a major risk to the effort.

Why? Two reasons: one, your ability to respond to market changes and coordinate all the necessary functions will be compromised, and two, you won’t be able to recruit the talent you need to drive the business.  The professionals that can drive the business will realize it’s a losing battle and avoid the company; the job will be seen as a loss of stature.

These are not my final thoughts on the topic but my observations based on how difficult it’s to define the role of product owner / product manager compared to other roles in the agile transformation.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s