I was recently at a large consumer packaged goods organization talking about Product Ownership. As I discussed the Product Owner accountabilities, I realized I had not asked why they were interested in this topic. Like many others, I am guilty of jumping to conclusions and launching into the subject without asking the simple question, “Why are we talking about this?” 


So, I asked, “Why are you interested in Product Ownership?”. The answer was not what I was expecting.


I have validated the following conversation with several other organizations, discussed this with many of our Professional Scrum Trainers, and see a similar pattern. The Scrum.org website traffic and resources being consumed also support the underlying narrative.


But let me continue with the story… 


Their response started with: “Historically, we have funded projects. The person who runs these projects is a project manager. The project manager ensures that a plan is built and then executed. They work with stakeholders and people doing the work. They provide reporting and ensure that stakeholders get involved at the right time. 

But during the last few years, many things have changed, which means we need project managers to act more like Product Owners in Scrum.” 

The story continued, and they highlighted the following themes:

Data – We can test ideas much faster than we ever have before. Because of this, our teams get access to more and more data, which they need to act on. Decisions need to be made faster, which would have required the project manager to organize lots of meetings and get sign-offs. We just can not afford to wait. Cross-functional teams – The best way to work for many initiatives is to get everyone together and give them a clear goal. Move away from task management to outcome management. Tools like OKRs took us on that journey. Having someone to manage the team’s work became an overhead and not valuable. Instead, we need someone to manage against an objective. Everyone was involved, and no one was accountable. In a large company, many stakeholders like to attend meetings and provide opinions. Still, ultimately, the project manager was accountable for the plan, not the outcomes. The only person responsible for the outcomes was the sponsor. The sponsor approved the funding. However, this person was far too busy to be involved in the day-to-day activities and often disconnected from the actual work and customers, which left a serious gap. Projects might be on time and budget, but they did not focus on the value they needed to.Flatter Organizations – We learned through the pandemic that flatter organizations made for better decision-making. Because meetings were so hard to organize, we removed many meetings during Covid. This has led us to flatten the organization and encourage decision-making at the operational level. However, decisions need to be supported not only by empowered workers but also by supporting leadership. 

Product Ownership Skills.

Project Managers have amazing project skills and experience in driving a plan, but the skills required for Product Ownership differ. 

In the past, I have always talked about Product Ownership being the intersection between solution and problem space – technology and the business. But what this company shared pointed a different light for me on accountability. It highlighted the evolution of project thinking to product thinking. From work to value. It also means more people will have to become Product Owners, even if their titles might be Project Manager, Portfolio Manager, Product Manager, or something else. The accountabilities of the Product Owner may be delegated to multiple people working to deliver these Product Ownership capabilities working with the ultimate Product Owner. The titles are ultimately a description of previous thinking. They are less relevant than the skills they need to operate in the new, flatter, data-oriented, cross-functional, accountable world and product world.

So what about traditional Project Management Skills?

They are still important; ultimately, teams will have to acquire those skills, and we should look for automation to fill in the administration tasks, allowing teams and individuals to focus on the value-adding creative work rather than trying to get everyone to a meeting. 

If you are interested in our evolving view of Product Ownership, look at the capabilities and Skills of Professional Product Ownership. This is still a work in progress, highlighting the change described by this organization.  



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