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Product Owners Are Not Backlog Managers
At least this is not their primary task. The job is much broader.
There seems to be a common misconception about the job of a Product Owner: Many people have the impression that the main job is backlog management.
How did I come to think that? Lets have a look at job postings for product owners. I quote real job postings:
You are responsible for the product backlog and its prioritization.
You take responsibility for the product backlog and prioritize the ToDos (whether in the KANBAN / Sprints model or not).
SCRUM/Lean Product Development: Write stories and tasks, manage the backlog, drive team performance, maximize velocity.
(😫 OUCH! That last one would have been much better if they hadn’t misunderstand velocity.)
None of these job requirements are technically incorrect: A product owner is in charge of the backlog. This is obviously the case on paper in the Scrum Guide, but also in real life.
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Before Delivery, there is Dicovery
Only if the Product Owner is actually doing product management, which is a very broad job, he or she is able to manage a backlog. It is only after a proper discovery process that the PM/PO is able to focus on the delivery area. In the words of the Double Diamond: Only after understanding the problem space can the PM/PO focus on the solution space.
I don't know why the job postings make the backlog the focus of what they're looking for. I can only imagine that hiring managers and recruiters have a very poor understanding of product management, reducing it to the mere management of open issues in the backlog.
Let's educate people again and again: Product management and product ownership is more than just stack ranking user stories.
Could it work, though?
There are situations in which a product owner focused on the backlog could work.
One is companies that split the role between a product manager and a product owner. But be careful! These need to be two people who work very closely together and spend a lot of time in the same meeting talking to the same people. They both need access to customers, users and stakeholders, as well as engineers.
In this scenario:
The product manager focuses on the long term, strategy, grand themes, and big issues.
The product owner focuses on the shorter term, details, and technical implications.
Both of them do discovery, both of them discuss ideas with stakeholders and users. There are no communication barriers into other departments and a very efficient communication between the two. These barriers are why Marty Cagan discourages companies from using this model.
While I have seen this scenario fail in some cases, I have also seen it work in other cases. If you can ensure that and there is a lot of trust between the two people, you can try it.
What are the responsibilites of a product manager? (It’s more than backlog management 😉)
What I read
This is separate section of this newsletter. I will list some of the best articles I read on the internet. They may or may not be related to the topic of this article. I will keep a list of the best articles (currently >700) at https://www.digital-product-management.com. These are today’s picks:
Storytelling tips from Elon Musk to nail your pitch: He has a framework that he uses to captivate his audience and sell his vision. Here are some of the tips from his framework.
How much money does a product manager make? A global guide on how much money product managers make in the biggest hubs around the world. Including the Americas, but also Europe and Asia.
The Ultimate List of Product Metrics: Acquisition, Activation, Engagement, Retention, Revenue, Referral, and Lean and Agile metrics. Additional techniques, and resources.