Human ResourcesTechnology

Product Owner vs Project Manager – which one do you need?

With the growth in popularity of agile and scrum project methodologies in the field of software development, it is becoming increasingly frequent to see people with job titles like Product Owner or Project Manager. While often confused, the two positions play different roles in the project. Perhaps your company employs a Project Manager, and the software house you are cooperating with is offering to bring a Product Owner (or a “PO”) into the project. How would you know if you need one?

Two women talking on the couch

Contents:

What is a Product Owner and how does their role differ from a Project Manager?

At Inwedo, we have a team of Product Owners and a Head of Processes. Their competencies cover all aspects of building a product, not only allocating and tracking the completion of tasks or managing schedules, which are the traditional responsibilities of a Project Manager.

What is a Project Manager?

The role of Project Manager in a scrum project is responsible for ensuring the goals are met by managing schedules, allocating resources, and assigning tasks to project team members. So main task of the Project Manager is to link dots in a project.

What is a Product Owner?

There is no single, universal description of what a PO (Product Owner) does, as the person’s responsibilities and day-to-day tasks differ between organizations and projects. Generally, however, a Product Owner is defined as someone who “(…) is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Development Team.”

Plainly speaking, a PO is the person who links the development team and the client – someone who understands the business context of the project, while at the same having a good idea of the development process and deep insight into the work of the project team.

So how does a Product Owner’s role compare to a Project Manager’s?

The main difference is that the Product Owner is a person who will help you set and monitor realistic, achievable goals, with both development and business in mind. They will then lead the development team to achieve these goals, as opposed to simply focusing on the execution of the task at hand.

You can also look at it from another angle: a Project Manager works mostly with the development team, but a Product Owner is a link between the client and the developers.

Woman writning on a white board and man standng next to her.

“How do I know if I need a Product Owner?”

When your business is facing a certain obstacle, or you feel stuck in a project, and you decide to hire a software house like Inwedo to help you move forward, there is a good chance you will soon start working with a Product Owner.

Some organizations prefer to allocate the responsibilities of a Product Owner to an internal employee, who will assign tasks and goals to the outsourced development team. While having your own PO to oversee the project might be necessary, our experience tells us that working with Inwedo’s PO in parallel is the optimal solution, as the two often complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and their cooperation results in synergy. When it comes to Product Owners, 1+1 can definitely equal 3.

Inwedo’s POs understand exactly what issue you are trying to solve, and they are more familiar with the development team and the process, meaning that they can help you achieve your goals. Also, it goes without saying that our PO will know how our team operates best, so they will be more suited to manage the team on our side.

Simply put, Inwedo’s PO can help you efficiently manage the team, processes, and tasks assigned to us, while ensuring that the project achieves the business goal.

What does a Product Owner do at Inwedo?

At Inwedo, the vast majority of projects start with a deep-dive into the business, current situation, and expectations of the client – what we call a Discovery Workshop.

That’s the first time our Product Owner gets in touch with the client. Together with the engineering and design teams, the PO holds an in-depth conversation – sometimes over a couple of sessions – with the business before even initiating the project.

As we start the project, the PO will work with the client on setting the goals, budget, and timeline, to ensure you get to where you want to be without going overboard with costs or delaying the project significantly.

Sometimes, it boils down to a realistic, down-to-earth insight into what’s feasible and what isn’t in the project, especially with the budgetary constraints you set. It’s good to divide various solutions and features of the software we will be developing into “must-have” and “good-to-have”, prioritizing the former and achieving the latter if time and budget allow.

Product Owner + Project Manager = Success

Another very important part of the role of a PO is to complement the job of a Project Manager. With a deep understanding of the development process and insight into how various moving parts affect each other, the Product Owner will help optimize the process to deliver results within – or even before – the set timeframe.

Think about it this way: give the PO the context and the problem to be solved, and they will communicate that to the development team and lead them to deliver a solution, in a timely and cost-efficient way. While there is a certain overlap in functions, the addition of a Product Owner working in parallel with a Project Manager can benefit you in multiple ways. PMs and POs communicate frequently and find it easy to work in alignment, as both roles utilize similar methodologies, complete similar actions, and are efficiency-oriented. In addition, both roles will pay attention to the cost-effectiveness of the project. To put it simply, they speak the same language. The addition of a Product Owner brings a product-oriented, “big picture” attitude to complement the traditional Project Management role. They understand your business and know how to get the work done. The two working in tandem will ensure the successful completion of the project.

How can a Product Owner help me?

The Product Owner is usually your first point of contact. At Inwedo, we like to host weekly catchups with our clients to update them on the progress of the project. However, these meetings serve another purpose as well.

Circumstances often change, and so may priorities. As the situation evolves, the project needs to as well. Many of our clients praise our flexibility, and we take pride in that.

A real-life example of how a Product Owner benefits the project

A good example would be a case we faced in the past. We were developing a custom application for a civil engineering consultancy client, and according to the initial schedule and assumptions, it was time to start developing a new function in the application – a time tracker. At the same time, in parallel, we were building a reporting base. During one of the weekly catchups, along with the client, we decided to complete a different stage – a reporting function – before moving on to the time tracker function. Upon completion, we launched the testing for the ready reporting function, and only then went ahead with the development of the time tracker.

Thanks to the PO’s experience and familiarity with the process, and our flexibility, the optimization resulted in the client getting ahead-of-schedule access to a reporting function. This also had a positive impact on the later stages of the project.

Learn as you work with us

When starting cooperation with Inwedo, you might not have a very clear understanding of the software development process or might not be a scrum expert. And you don’t have to be! But there is a good chance that as we work closely on solving your problems, you will also learn a thing or two.

  • One of the most important lessons centers around expectations management and realistic goal setting, which is always important when making business decisions. The benefits of that do not need to be explained, as we are sure you understand the implications of making a wrong assumption.
  • Software development is a process, and immediate solutions are rare, but you may not be aware of that without having the relevant experience. However, at Inwedo, we work closely with our clients, which more often than not proves essential to the success of the project. We host weekly catchups, during which we explain in detail what’s happening on our side and give you insights into how the project is being managed, as well as how certain decisions reflect on the future. Involving the development team closely in the business processes and planning is a great investment that can help transform the team into a self-organized one, and that comes with obvious time- and effort-saving benefits, as well as streamlining the execution and removing friction over time.
  • Another thing our clients often learn from us is the flexibility that characterizes Inwedo. Agile adjustments, process optimization, budgeting, and effective communication are things that we continuously focus on and strive to improve, and as you watch us do this, there are lessons to be learned there for other parts of the business. Perhaps your next marketing campaign will become as agile as the software development project was with Inwedo?
Project IT kick off checklist Inwedo

Sample project kick-off checklist at Inwedo. In this stage of the project, the role of the Product Owner is major.

So, are the Product Owner and Project Manager roles necessary?

Let’s get straight to the point: bringing in a Product Owner allows you to focus on your business goals without worrying about the execution.

With a Project Manager but no PO, you may face a situation where you see inefficient use of your budget or find that the application that you spent so much time and money on doesn’t really solve your problem. If the Project Manager isn’t as familiar with the development process, things will take more time, and you’re almost sure to meet bottlenecks. This is likely to cause team morale to drop, as unrealistic expectations might be placed on the team members.

As we explained, a Product Owner is the perfect two-in-one, your representative within the engineering team. When outsourcing a project to a software house, make sure you are assigned an experienced Product Owner to help you manage the development, and help adjust the goals and milestones to your business.