Product Owners (PO) and Product Managers (PM) have complementary roles within software development teams. Albeit some may mix or confuse the two, they can actually be considered career advancements depending on what your goals are. Read on to understand exactly what a Product Owner and/or a Product Manager does, and what you should strive to be!
Before we start, it’s important to understand that in some companies Product Managers and Product Owners not only coexist but work closely together.
What does a PO do? How is it different from what a PM does?
Product Managers are usually responsible for Vision and product roadmap, defining where the business as a whole should move to next. This means looking at the market, customer, and user needs. In other words, PMs look outside the product to bring insight and boost competitiveness.
On the other hand, Product Owners have a more inward view of product development, focusing on the team and deliverables. POs write user stories. This role was created (in Scrum) to represent the client as a single entity before the software development team, troubleshooting and supporting engineers in prioritizing deliverables and how to go about them.
Oversimplifying: PMs decide on where to go, and POs decide on how to get there.
Sidenote on paychecks, according to The Product Manager:
- A Product Owner’s salary is of about $110K US per year
- A Product Manager makes at least $112K US per year
How do I become a PO or PM?
It might seem obvious, but the answer is time and experience.
Necessary skills and capabilities for POs
Take the Product Owner position: although it is important to become familiar (and maybe even certified) with some Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSO) or Profession Scrum Product Owner (PSPO) training, there are more defining competencies you need to develop:
- Ability to collaborate with internal and external stakeholders
- Ownership, leadership, and team management skills
- Practice in strategic planning and forecasting
Successful POs tend to be analytical, combining business acumen with people skills. Thus, to become a PO you must advocate for user needs while also balancing business goals.
The PO must be able to articulate strategic goals and manage development, with activities ranging from the interpretation of the backlog tasks, to the coordination of the team, finally ensuring that priorities are taken into account.
If you wish to become a PO, work towards developing the skills we mentioned earlier, but also consider the need for strong emotional intelligence. You’ll have several responsibilities and will be re-negotiating them across the board, constantly.
Necessary skills and capabilities for PMs
Product Management can be the next step in PO careers. Quite often, PMs manage several products – each one with its own dedicated team. There is a broader range of responsibilities and stakeholders to deal with. Not only UX/UI and Engineering but also Product Marketing and Sales.
To become a PM, you can take specific courses (in Brazil, PM3 stands out), but the most important thing is to know the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) inside and out. This applies even if your original background lies in other areas of expertise, such as Marketing.
To be a successful Product Manager, you should work to:
- Gain in-depth market knowledge
- View opportunities and challenges systematically
- Strengthen communication and negotiation skills
- Make decisions (and own them) even when there is missing information
At the end of the day, it’s about conciliating domain expertise, business expertise, leadership skills, and operational ability. 280 Group’s intro piece on Product Manager Roles and Responsibilities gives excellent insight on these.
What experience should I accumulate as a PO or PM before starting an international career?
Like we mentioned before, there are two sets of expertise that have to become your strong suit. First, learning how to create a product roadmap and making sure your team sticks to it. Second, excelling in managing stakeholders and balancing their needs. Let’s dig deeper, shall we?
1 Learn how to create a roadmap and keep your team moving
We’re going to, again, oversimplify. Here is a quick list of steps you as a PO have to be acquainted with and then be able to lead:
- Understand / Define the company’s strategic objectives in the current context.
- Identify the problems that your customers and users need to solve and their nuances.
- Define a product view, that is, establish what it should be and do when the next version is ready.
- Delimit the time and resources needed to achieve that vision, review priorities, and realign the scope.
- Validate the initial idea with user customers – either with concept tests or pre-releases.
- List possible functionalities and, once again, prioritize execution.
At an operational level, however, this means supporting team members in seeing what deserves more or less attention, and when. Here, you should consider the usual factors that go towards time and task management:
- Which activities are mandatory and define the direction of the others?
- Which depend on factors external to the development cycle (new contracts or changes in legislation, for example).
- Which stories relate to the business differential and demand more time for execution.
- Which stories are complex task complexity – requiring more time and specialized professionals;
- What is the financial impact of the deployment?
- How is the status vs. urgency relation?
2 Excel on how to manage stakeholders and prioritize demands
Especially as PM, you must stick to the strategic vision to inspire and guide the POs in their mission. That means interconnecting them with the views and needs of different players. There are core competencies Julia Austin listed in HBR’s What It Takes to Become a Great Product Manager article and we quote here:
- Conducting customer interviews and user testing
- Running design sprints
- Feature prioritization and road map planning
- The art of resource allocation (it is not a science!)
- Performing market assessments
- Translating business-to-technical requirements, and vice versa
- Pricing and revenue modeling
- Defining and tracking success metrics
Before applying for a PO or PM position in an American organization, you should look to accumulate this experience in your own country. You become a world-class professional once you have done this a sufficient amount of times to be confident at it, even though not all roll-outs are successful.
What does it take to advance as a Product Owner or Product Manager for American companies through Ubiminds?
Ubiminds is always hiring Brazil’s top tech talent for our US-based customers. If you’re already working as a PO or PM and are looking to step up your game, fill the form below to get to know us. We’ll talk and find out which company best fits your interests, or provide you with coaching to continue developing any skills you may still need to work on.
International Marketing Leader, specialized in tech. Proud to have built marketing and business generation structures for some of the fastest-growing SaaS companies on both sides of the Atlantic (UK, DACH, Iberia, LatAm, and NorthAm). Big fan of motherhood, world music, marketing, and backpacking. A little bit nerdy too!