Should Your Product Manager Be Your Product Owner?

Assume that you are on a Scrum Team doing development; your Team actually builds Product. Many people, including many Coaches and Trainers, would suggest that the Product Manager for that Product is your Team’s Product Owner.

Why do they say this, and is it right?

Why do they say it? Well, Ken Schwaber, the co-discoverer of Scrum (along with Jeff Sutherland) said as much in his 2007 book, The Enterprise and Scrum. On page 6 he famously said, “Product Managers and Customers are now Product Owners.” People – especially Product Managers and Customers –slurped that right up; he had told them what they wanted to hear.

But what did he mean by that statement? To figure that out, you need to read the book. Let me summarize the relevant parts of this discussion. First of all, you need to realize that this book is largely about scaling. In Ken’s mind, there are Scrum Teams that develop Product, and Integration Scrum Teams that integrate these lower-level products into Integrated Products. The following infographic based on a diagram from the book shows this relationship in the case of a Product-level Organization.[1]

Project Management - Product Level Organization - 3Back Blog
In this particular Organization, the Product Manager is the Product Owner of the top-level Integration Scrum Team (labeled “1” in the infographic). The Product Owner, down on one of the ‘normal’ development Scrum Teams at the bottom, is somebody else. And, just in case someone tells you that the Product Manager is actually the Product Owner of each of these Scrum Teams, the following infographic (also based on a diagram in the book)[2], showing how the Product Owners and ScrumMasters are layered, should disabuse you of that notion.


So, the bottom line is this… When Ken says the Product Manager is a Product Owner, he means the Product Manager is the Product Owner of some Integration Scrum Team, not your Development Scrum Team. The only exception, of course, is if your Scrum Team is the totality of the Product-level Organization – and it seldom is. Just sayin’…

Looking to broaden your Scrum knowledge base? We’ve got training for that.

As Always, Stay Agile.

Notes and Sources 

  1. Schwaber, Ken. Scrum im Unternehmen. Vol. 91. Unterschleissheim: Microsoft Press, 2007.
  2. Schwaber, Ken. The Enterprise and Scrum. Vol. 93. Sebastopol: Microsoft Press, 2011.