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The difference between PM, PO and Project Manager
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Search for “Product Manager” roles on Linkedin and you’ll find infinite variations: PM, PO, Program Managers, Project Managers, etc. But are they all the same? I picked 3 typical roles and tried to define what each one mean:
For this I am using 4 variables:
1️⃣ What each role owns, i.e. you’re truly accountable for
2️⃣ What each role uses for planning, i.e. what will you be working with every single day or week
3️⃣ Who each role deals with on the day-to-day, i.e. which relationships will influence success in your job
4️⃣ What success looks like for each role, i.e. how you can deliver and grow within the role’s career path
Let’s dive in:
- 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐣𝐞𝐜𝐭 𝐌𝐚𝐧𝐚𝐠𝐞𝐫𝐬 own a project with a beginning and end, which when delivered should be done.
- 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐝𝐮𝐜𝐭 𝐎𝐰𝐧𝐞𝐫𝐬 own a set of feature requirements and the delivery of epics, increasing the product’s capacity to add value.
- 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐝𝐮𝐜𝐭 𝐌𝐚𝐧𝐚𝐠𝐞𝐫𝐬 own the product, the value delivered to users, and ultimately the P&L of that product for the company.
- 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐣𝐞𝐜𝐭 𝐌𝐚𝐧𝐚𝐠𝐞𝐫𝐬 use a Gantt chart project plan, including dependencies, critical path and tasks associated with delivering a project.
- 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐝𝐮𝐜𝐭 𝐎𝐰𝐧𝐞𝐫𝐬 use a backlog of issues, stories and tasks, normally created by a PM or by the team, that compose the Roadmap.
- 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐝𝐮𝐜𝐭 𝐌𝐚𝐧𝐚𝐠𝐞𝐫𝐬 use a Product Roadmap, outlining the narrative, opportunities and solutions that more likely get the product to its goals.
- 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐣𝐞𝐜𝐭 𝐌𝐚𝐧𝐚𝐠𝐞𝐫𝐬 deal with every stakeholder assigned to the project. If you’re not contributing, you’re out of their scope.
- 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐝𝐮𝐜𝐭 𝐎𝐰𝐧𝐞𝐫𝐬 deal with engineering, design and product managers responsible with executing on the product
- 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐝𝐮𝐜𝐭 𝐌𝐚𝐧𝐚𝐠𝐞𝐫𝐬 deal with stakeholders, customers, and everyone building product, guaranteeing alignment between the decisions and value
- 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐣𝐞𝐜𝐭 𝐌𝐚𝐧𝐚𝐠𝐞𝐫𝐬 succeed when they deliver the shortest critical path and the project on time
- 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐝𝐮𝐜𝐭 𝐎𝐰𝐧𝐞𝐫𝐬 succeed when they have properly defined requirements, and a smooth path of features to production
- 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐝𝐮𝐜𝐭 𝐌𝐚𝐧𝐚𝐠𝐞𝐫𝐬 succeed when they progress towards Product-Market-Fit, delivering retained, happy customers to the company
Hopefully this helps differentiate the roles and expectations. Even though I don't believe in the PO role, I respect that companies have their own cultures, but let's not make someone a PO and expect them to do the PM work.