December 2, 2020

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I’m a Product Manager, What Is My Place in Scrum? – Serious Scrum


Scrum knows 3 roles: Product Owner, Development Team and Scrum Master. People from outside the Scrum Team are defined as ‘stakeholders’. The Scrum Guide also mentions ‘committee’, ‘employees’ and ‘organisation’ separately, but the umbrella term in Scrum is ‘stakeholder’.

Often stakeholders have no insight into what kind of role they can play in a Scrum environment. The series ‘Scrum and stakeholders’ aims to clarify the place of these stakeholders within Scrum.

Every Scrum environment is different, so there is no clear-cut answer that applies to all situations. Therefore we will discuss the different options to help you decide what is the best solution for you.

This article will discuss the Product Manager, who is responsible for the business strategy of product, its functional requirements and launch of features.

There’s one role in Scrum that has “Product” in the title — The Product Owner. This is what the Scrum Guide says about this role:

“The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from work of the Development Team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, Scrum Teams, and individuals.” — Scrum Guide 2017 Schwaber and Sutherland

There’s also this quote:

“For the Product Owner to succeed, the entire organization must respect his or her decisions. The Product Owner’s decisions are visible in the content and ordering of the Product Backlog. No one can force the Development Team to work from a different set of requirements.” — Scrum Guide 2017 Schwaber and Sutherland

What is pivotal to understand is that the Product Owner in Scrum is a role, not a function. Many organisations have created functions ‘Scrum Master’ and ‘Product Owner’. This blurs the discussion about the Scrum Master and Product Owner roles.

The Scrum Guide leaves room for many types of Product Owners. In one company, a Product Owner could be fully responsible for the business strategy of a product. In another company, a Product Owner could be responsible for the bare minimum: ordering the Product Backlog, discussing the objective of a Sprint, leading the Sprint Review. Scrum doesn’t discuss this at all.

In some organisations, the Product Manager has the Product Owner role. A person with this function is responsible for the product strategy and translates the Product Owner responsibilities accordingly.

In other organisations, the Product Manager and Product Owner are separate functions. Product Managers are responsible for the product vision and the Product Owners translate this vision to a product backlog. The Product Manager acts on C-level and the Product Owner acts on teams level.

Whenever a Product Manager doesn’t act as a Product Owner, she/he is a stakeholder of the Scrum Team. As a stakeholder, a Product Manager has clear ways to interact with a Scrum Team.

For stakeholders, the Sprint Review is the key event. It allows them to inspect the product Increment, discuss what to do next and review timelines, budget and other specifics involving the product. Apart from the Sprint Review, there are other opportunities to be involved, like during refinements.

A Product Manager will also need to align with the person who fills the Product Owner role. As the Scrum Guide states, the way this happens varies. However, it is important to understand that in Scrum the Product Owner determines the order of the Product Backlog. This means that the Product Manager — as a stakeholder — can’t make these decisions.

If a Product Manager can play a role in creating the “Done” Increment, then she/he could be part of the Development Team. Typically, in IT environments this will not be the case. However, in a marketing or sales environment, the Product Manager could certainly be part of the Development Team consisting mainly of marketing/sales team members.

A Product Manager also doesn’t appear to be the obvious Scrum Master, because this role focuses on effectively working with the Scrum framework and has little to do with the product itself.

A Product Manager could be a great Product Owner because she/he determines the product strategy and therefore is perfectly suited to order the Product Backlog and align with the Development Team. It is important to note that this article discusses the Product Owner as a Scrum role and not as a function.

In an IT environment, a Product Manager isn’t a logical choice for a Development Team member. In other environments though, this could work out perfectly well.

A Product Manager could also function as a stakeholder. In this situation, the Product Manager must respect the decisions of the Product Owner concerning the ordering of the Product Backlog. Only then the Product Owner can succeed in his or her role.

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