Business Representative or Product Manager. Who is the Product Owner?

I’m often in the situation where I’ve got both business representatives and product managers in my programme team. The big question is: who is the Product Owner?

Business Representative

Mark was the product owner. He was a Managing Editor (it was Media) and he was seconded from the business to set up a new editorial function/service using the technology I was building. Mark guided development so that we built what his editorial team needed, when they needed it. He was a master in his field and was instrumental in launching the new service and associated technology.

Product Manager

Cait was the product owner. She was the Senior Product Manager assigned to work with me to develop some technology. The product had to fit within the wider portfolio and take the organisation in the future. It was Cait’s job to make sure this happened. She has a long term view and was responsible for nurturing the product over time.

Two Product Owners

Cait and Mark are real people. They were both product owners on the same programme. Scary thought. Two product owners. The Scrum guys would have a fit. How does that work?

Both Mark and Cait are both very good at what they do. Both had skin the game. This was a big initiative and reputations were made as a result. Both were plausible candidates for title of product owner. In fact both were the product owner – in a sense. But they had different responsibilities reflecting their background.

I have previously said that the Highlander principle applies to product ownership, i.e. there can only be one. However, in practice this often means there is one programme level product owner and potentially other product owners for parts of the programme. This is what was happening with Cait and Mark.

Personally I believe the long term view has to have precedence. So Cait, as the product manager for the wider initiative, was the programme product owner. She had oversight of everything, cared about everything, and would be responsible for all of the technology when the programme wound down. That included content management, video management, interfaces to broadcast systems in various 3rd party buildings (happened to be the various British and European parliaments), speech to text capability, and search. Everything.

Mark was only interested in a subset of the programme. And he had a short term goal. He wanted to launch the new editorial service then would step away. This focus meant he was only interested in the technology the new editorial team would be directly using. Mark was not interested in the raft of other technologies that were behind the scenes. In practical terms Mark was product owner of the content management system we were using.

So in the “Chief and Indians” model I talked about in What do I do when There is More Than One Product Owner Cait was the “Chief” and Mark was one of the “Indians”. In fact Cait has other product managers who owned other parts of the technology set that she had overall responsibility for.

To be effective my programme teams have to combine people from both camps.