Balancing PM and PO Roles, and Setting Limits with Diplomacy

Welcome to our Product Newsletter, a biweekly email highlighting top discussions, and learning resources for product managers.

What We Will Cover In This Edition:-

Top Discussions: 

1) Combining product manager and product owner roles

2) Product Managers in the US Federal government

3) How do you set limits without coming across as rigid

Top Learning Resources:

1. The first principles of product management

2. The top 4 deliverables that every Product Manager should know

3. Product Management in AI-ML

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Top Discussions

Question 1Combining product manager and product owner roles

Hello all,

I’m curious if anyone has opinions about fusing the roles of product manager and product owner into one. (as in a single person handling both). especially in a huge organization with low product maturity.

Has anyone dealt with this in the past? If so, do you have any advice on how to make it work? Or should it simply be avoided altogether?

Any ideas or feedback are much appreciated.

– Bina Campos

Discussion

A] I think I’m working on such a role. Being my first PM role, I have very little understanding of the difference. Would love for an experienced PM to break this down. Also, any tips for the above PMs?

– Heather Kurtz

B] PMs typically have less direct involvement in routine engineering tasks. Understanding the consumer, the competition, the market, pricing, packaging, and determining the types of innovations that will result in revenue growth are now our main priorities.

POs are typically more actively involved in daily engineering tasks. They place a greater emphasis on honing user stories, explaining to engineering what is in and what is out of scope, prioritising the product backlog, and other related tasks.
The PO is typically more focused on execution, whereas the PM is frequently more focused on the strategy end. The two frequently combine, although they frequently divide at some point.

  • You are CERTAINLY a PO if you attend an engineering standup.
  • You are DEFINITELY a PM if you provide a 9-month product strategy to sales.
  • If you complete both, congratulations to you

-Karan Trivedi

C] I presently work both positions, which is difficult. 4 teams working on a large product. (Should be five teams, but staffing)

Therefore, I am part of my team’s execution level. I then have to assist the other three teams in comprehending the present and upcoming features. In addition, you need to find time to make endless presentations and learn about new features and epics.

We just held a planning gathering, and three teams simultaneously asked me to join their breakout. I wish I could take a step back from the execution and concentrate more on the approach. We can only hope that happens in the upcoming months.

– Damian Marshall

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Question 2) Product Managers in the US Federal government

Do federal agencies in the US recruit product managers? If so,

  • What do they (PMs) work on?
  • How does it compare to the private sector?
  • How long does it take to get hired?

– Juan Allo

Discussion

A] Federal agencies do recruit product managers for various projects and initiatives. The roles and responsibilities of a product manager in the federal sector may differ from those of a product manager in the private sector, depending on the agency and the project.

Generally, federal product managers work on projects that benefit the public, such as infrastructure, healthcare, and defense. The hiring process for federal jobs may take longer than in the private sector due to security clearance requirements and other regulations.

Additionally, federal product managers may need to navigate complex bureaucratic structures and adhere to strict budgetary constraints. Despite these challenges, working in the federal sector can offer unique opportunities for making a meaningful impact on society.

– Corey Amorin

B] Yes, federal agencies in the United States do recruit product managers for various roles within their organizations.

While the specific titles and job descriptions may vary, product management roles can be found in federal agencies that develop and maintain software applications, digital services, and other technology-based solutions.

The responsibilities of a product manager in the federal government can include:

  1. Identifying user needs and requirements: Product managers work closely with stakeholders, including end users and government officials, to understand their needs and translate them into product requirements.
  2. Developing product roadmaps: They create and manage product roadmaps, outlining the vision, goals, and timeline for the development and enhancement of digital products or services.
  3. Collaborating with cross-functional teams: Product managers work with multidisciplinary teams, including developers, designers, testers, and subject matter experts, to ensure the successful delivery of the product.
  4. Prioritizing features and enhancements: They make informed decisions about feature prioritization based on user feedback, resource availability, and strategic objectives.
  5. Managing product lifecycle: Product managers oversee the entire product lifecycle, from concept development to deployment, maintenance, and continuous improvement.

To explore product management opportunities within federal agencies, you can visit official government job websites like USA JOBS or individual agency websites. Additionally, networking with professionals in the federal government or leveraging online platforms that connect job seekers with federal opportunities can be helpful in finding relevant openings.

– Gary Houston

C] Yes. In my limited experience, it is not all that different from private. There still are “CEOs,” but they are agencies not people. There are still awful managers out there who can sabotage your career and good ones who can make you feel fortunate to be employed. There are still measurements, but they tend to be less focused on revenue.

Bootstrapping and the caliber of your product team are, in my opinion, the two most difficult aspects of Fed PM.

The former because most innovative and intriguing technologies are blacklisted, and not all vendors or SaaS are acceptable for use. You have discovered a specialized piece of software to address a challenging data problem. It is unfortunate that you have to use a product that is 20 years old and has not been updated in 5 years.

The latter since it is sustained by work is alive and dead by contractors. Additionally, contracts are always up to competition, and your preferred agency may be changed without justification by one that is vastly inferior.

You may have also heard a lot about bureaucracy and red tape. That is overstated in my opinion, or at the very least, it is not what you anticipate. Although federal work naturally progresses more slowly than private work, interagency dependencies and security clearances are the actual roadblocks.

So while both Fed and private PM jobs include some element of luck, I would say Fed work has a lot more moving parts. I consider myself quite fortunate to be in my current position, yet anything could change, such as a new manager or presidential administration.

Good Luck.

– Malcolm Sequeira

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Question 3) How do you set limits without coming across as rigid?

I have a situation at work where the engineering manager I’m partnered with will disregard the first few weeks of a task we have to complete. Every time I set up an invite for us to discuss it, they either decline or show there, say they’ll help move the item forward async after, and then don’t deliver.

The day before the deadline, the engineering manager will finally grant time to complete the task and inform myself and the rest of the team that we did it incorrectly and that there is no time left to redo it. This comes after working with the rest of the team to complete the task two days before the deadline (so I have time to pre-align with stakeholders).

There is a pattern here, therefore this time I chose to defend myself rather than allow them to act like a bull in a china shop the day before deadlines. I advised the management that the job was finished and that it would be too late to change the course of events. The management disapproved but nevertheless did it. I was helpless because engineers work under their supervision. It is still my responsibility to report whether or not that assignment has been performed, and the engineering manager did not even meet with me to discuss how we might go about doing so.

I explained everything to my manager, who is more concerned with seeing that the assignment is completed than with doing anything to hold the engineering manager accountable, in the manner described above, with documentation and a time estimate. My manager, who is new to working with me and the emergency medical team, is accusing me of being rigid and wants this to end immediately.
The EM’s behavior needs to change, and I shouldn’t drop this because it’s a pattern, I asserted for the first time in my life.

In general, I guess, I want to do a better job of advocating for myself, but I also don’t want to come across as rigid, since it may kind of ruin my career.
Has anyone faced a situation like this before, or more generally, been able to set clear limits without alienating their EM or, regrettably, their new manager?

– Lawrence Martin

Discussion

A]
You should set up checkpoints, in my opinion. Similar problems came up with my engineering team. They would tell me that the feature was very simple to create, but just before they began to implement it, they would change it completely. I informed my engineering manager, but nothing could be done.

One of my mentors advised me to develop a proper Define, Design, Develop, and Delivery process. Establish checkpoints at each stage. For each checkpoint meeting, be sure to record the names of the key stakeholders and a task list. Send a recording of the check point meetings to everyone.

If they later claim that the assignment has not been completed, you can provide your deck and hold your EM accountable.

– Priya Verma

B] When your manager doesn’t support you, it can be difficult to hold people accountable for actions.

There are a few options available to you:

  • Note everything down. Keep a record of the exchange in which the EM gave you the chronology; Record any meetings that are denied, Record assertions that something is improperly done, Record the actual completion date as well as any design adjustments that were made (such as anything you requested that wasn’t included or something they decided to add that you didn’t want, etc.). Once that is finished, review it. Consider whether you think it’s okay, then speak with your manager once again. Ask your manager what constitutes “acceptable” lateness and demonstrate any/all instances where the EM overly prolonged the project.
  • A lesson I picked up from a marital book. Ask the EM manager what you can do to solve this problem and be yourself when speaking with him. It is very challenging for me to keep my promises to the sales team once deadlines are missed and the entire job needs to be redone. It also leaves me with a negative impression. How am I contributing to these problems, and what can I do to ensure that we reach these deadlines? In order for us to keep on the same page, I had anticipated that regular meetings to discuss the project would be beneficial. However, I recognize that you are busy and don’t need ANOTHER appointment on your calendar.

– Gerard Kolan

C] I get the impression that the EM is uncomfortable with your strategy but is unable to address it in a constructive manner.

I can come up with two possibilities:

  • Product Managers frequently have to take on a variety of duties in order to accomplish their goals, thus it’s simple to pick up the automatic behaviors of others in one team. Try to comprehend what the EM’s function is in addition to line management and how the EM sees their own function. Think about whether some of what you’re trying to do or doing overlaps with how the EM sees things. If that’s the case, figure out a way to politely withdraw and let them finish.
  • The vision and/or strategy you are pursuing are not shared by EM. EM might not feel as though they have a way to contribute or offer feedback, or they might not believe they have been at least taken into account and things are being pushed down his throat and the throats of the team. Perhaps holding a high-level meeting with the EM to discuss the Vision and Strategy and actively solicit their opinion, without addressing it in that meeting but rather just listening in and probing deeply into their worries since they might be reserved.

– Malcolm Sequeira

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Top Learning Resources

First principle thinking helps PMs because as companies scale, communicating the rationale behind historical, current, and future decisions can be simplified in a way that their team and stakeholders can rally around. This enables people around the PM to move quickly in the same direction, decouple, and make smart trade offs without their presence.

The top 4 deliverables that every Product Manager should know

Most PMs realize that defining a compelling vision for their product is a core responsibility of their role. But what most get wrong is thinking they can simply get away with defining a simple vision statement, those that do just that rarely find that their team is inspired or highly aligned on the future direction of the product. That’s because in summarizing the entirety of the vision in a short and pithy vision statement, so much of the important context around it is lost.

The article also doesn’t dwell on different applications of ML. It assumes that the PM or a business leader has identified an application and wants to apply ML to it. I rather emphasize that finding a “real” problem is one of the most critical tasks for a PM in a Machine Learning project.

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