Product Owner vs Project Manager in FinTech

Well being honest sometimes I get such assignment which called as a project manager but in the reality it is pure a product owner role. Another story is when a position assumes both roles as PM and PO in one person, it is hard but possible.

The common things for both Product Owner and Project Managers are these people work with the team to reach a common goal: deliver the project or product on time and with high quality, staying in a budget.

The requirement of a Project Manager or a Product Owner depends on the structure of the project and the market requirements, resources to build it. Let’s consider deeper what makes positions unique and how they differ from each other.

Product Owner vs. Project Manager.

Who is a Scrum Product Owner?

According to the Scrum Guide: “The Product Owner is responsible for maximising the value of the product and the work of the Development Team. How this is done may vary widely across organisations, Scrum Teams, and individuals”.  

Let me remind you the main responsibility of a Product Owner is to manage the Product Backlog, what includes:

  • Clearly expressing Product Backlog items;
  • Ordering the items in the Product Backlog to best achieve goals and missions;  
  • Optimising the value of the work the Development Team performs;
  • Ensuring that the Product Backlog is visible, transparent, and clear to all, and shows what the Scrum Team will work on next; 
  • Ensuring the Development Team understands items in the Product Backlog to the level needed.

Thus the Scrum Product Owner is accountable for all work mentioned above. There are various customers and users, and it is very important that the product owner has a proper understanding of their needs as well as the business domain.

The Product Owner is a key role who stays in touch with all the stakeholders (users, customers, marketing, sales, senior management, or customer support), represents their desires and keeps them connected with the development team. 

Let’s consider the main duties in details:

  • Deliver a clear vision of the project;
  • Negotiate the priorities, budgeting, scope, and schedule.
  • Share the risks, issues and dependencies with the stakeholders.
  • Defining the features and specifying the requirements of the product;
  • Prioritise the features of the product;
  • Adjust the features and re-prioritise them if it’s needed after every sprint;
  • Lead the product backlog and order work in the product backlog;
  • Ensure that the product backlog list is clear, transparent and visible for all participants;
  • Define and announce releases;
  • Keep the all well informed of the upcoming status as well as get their feedback.

Who is an Agile Project Manager?

Agile Project Manager is responsible for leading a project from the beginning till the end, which supposes the planning of an entire project, its execution, delivering the project on time, and being in a budget also managing the people and resources. 

She or he facilitates to team work to ensure that the desired business value is being delivered and the work is carried out in the correct order.

Important to mention that a project manager should be able to ask questions, resolve conflicts, understand unstated assumptions, manage people, time, quality and budget, in short, keep in mind iron triangle.

Let’s consider what the major responsibilities does a Project Manager role imply. All these responsibilities are universal and applicable to all project managers over the life cycle of a project.

For instance, Planning and Defining Scope.

During COVID19 time and post-COVID19 time, a proper planning with a risk management have the significant meaning for facing project deadlines as many projects fail due to ineligible planning. 

Because the project manager defines the scope of the project, determines the available resources (peoples, accesses, software, hardware etc.), estimates the time and financial commitments.

Time Management is essential: A project can be defined as successful or failed depending on the factor whether it has been delivered on time. 

Meanwhile a project manager should set realistic deadlines and ensure that the team adheres to it. In general the main agile PM’s activities to follow are: 

  • Define an activity;
  • Sequence the activity;
  • Estimate a duration for the activity;
  • Develop a schedule accordingly;
  • Maintain the schedule.

Ensure customer satisfaction: Justify stakeholders’ expectations with deliverables is vital and ensure that stakeholders are satisfied with the results. 

Monitor Progress: a true agile project manager monitors and analyses the team performance and expenses and undertake effective measures to do so.

However, maintain a constant communication with the stakeholders and obtain a regular feedback and report them back with the progress is a main work for PM. 

Cost Estimation and Budget Development. Example from real life: the project was partly failed because it was delivered in time to the stakeholders but if it costs much more than the budget which was declared. 

True PM should keep in mind, the given estimation at the beginning of the project and monitor the expenses according to the planned budget. 

Sometimes the Project Manager should adjusts the figures accordingly and keep the budget stable, otherwise immediately report about hypothetically possible additional charges.

Project Risk Management.

“Risk management focuses on the negative—threats and failures rather than opportunities and successes”,(Harvard Business Review). In common words, risks are potential problems which have an equal likelihood of happening and not. 

All possible Issues and problems should be collected in a Risk Register document and develop risk mitigation strategies. When one of them or few arise in project the PM should immediately follow the pre-defined risk mitigation strategy for particular issue.

Final reports and other important documents. 

These duties are two very important tasks for the project manager, they document all the projects requirements that have been fulfilled, during the entire project, that includes what has been done, who were involved, deliverables and goal which were reached, and how it would have been improved in the future.

Let’s consider the similarities between a Product Owner and Project Manager

Sometimes a Project Manager can be considered as a Product Owner and Product Owners sometimes acts as Project Managers. Both roles have many similarities between each other. 

Project Managers and Product Owners are responsible to look after a team that works together to complete a project, on these roles are important to have people skills and communication skills to solve conflicts and eliminate obstacles. 

The foundation of successful project is to build trust, show transparency and facilitate proper communication between team members, stakeholders or sponsors, keeping in mind the success of the project.

Thus both roles are accountable for the successful final outcome of a project.  The difference between the roles of a Project Manager and a Product Owner is when it comes to their day-to-day management. 

Below I describe how a Product Owner’s role stands out from a Project Manager. 

Product Owner vs. Project Manager 

Product OwnerProject Manager
Product visionAdvocate the needs of a customer and acts as their voice for the product vision.Represents to the sponsors and stakeholders predefined (not by her/him but someone else) product vision and curates the project.
FeedbackEnsures that the decisions made in the company are shaped according to the feedback received.According to customer feedback, he adjusts the product vision and strategy. 
StrategyDefines the strategic roadmap, the goal and monitor that value is being delivered to the customer.Is responsible for business outcomes (+budget), quality, time and scope.
CommunicationStays constantly in touch with the team, customers, stakeholders and the organisation. Works with the stakeholders and/or helps the product owner and the development team do when needed.
RiskConcentrates on the long-term ongoing support for product capabilities and value stream.Being focused on the nearest sprint and release (CI/CD).
Table 1. Product Owner vs. Project Manager.

To be continued…