What is the difference between a Product Manager and a Product Owner in SAFe?

‘Product manager’ (PM) and ‘Product Owner’ (PO) are two roles that appear in many organisations which have adopted agile approaches to their work. In SAFe, these roles are distinct, each with specific responsibilities.

Different focus for each role

The PM and PO roles have a different focus in SAFe:

  • The product manager is focussed on the benefits to the customer and organisation. They prioritise features and ensure each feature has clearly defined benefits to the customer and/or the organisation before it can be picked up by one of the agile teams. The PM is also the main point of contact for business owners and other interested parties who would like work to be done by members of the agile release train (ART).
  • Product owners are focussed on the needs of their agile teams. They are there to make sure that their teams have all of the information they require about the feature they are working on, so the team can break it down into stories. The PO is available to the team and, if there are questions that the PO cannot answer, they will seek out a suitable, timely response.

The product manager and the product owners in an agile release train must form an effective working relationship. They must collectively understand their customer’s needs. The PM has the main contact with the customer, with information flowing from the customer to the PM, into the POs and their respective teams.

PM and PO FAQPM and PO FAQPM and PO FAQ

The PM and POs meet frequently at ART Sync or PO Sync events, and work closely during the PI Planning event for the ART. They also need to be able to communicate effectively outside of these formal sessions so that queries can be resolved quickly and stakeholders can be kept up to date with current information.

Product Manager

Responsibilities of a product manager in SAFe include:

  • Setting the vision for the agile release train
  • Maintaining the roadmap for the agile release train
  • Content authority over features and their associated acceptance criteria
  • Working with the system architect and product owners to understand enabler features
  • Ordering the programme backlog of features (including enabler features)
  • Participating in PI Planning, System Demos, and the Inspect and adapt workshop for their agile release train
  • Accepting features as complete
  • Managing the expectations of business owners and other stakeholders
  • Working with the solution manager and other product managers, if the ART is part of a solution train
  • Has authority to say ‘No’ to stakeholders, organisational managers and leaders

Product Owner

Responsibilities of a product owner in SAFe include:

  • Ensuring user stories are in line with the team’s PI objectives, the features that the team have agreed to work on, and the vision
  • Content authority over stories and associated acceptance criteria
  • Helping the agile team break features down into stories to go onto the team backlog
  • Working with the team and the system architect to understand enabler stories
  • Ordering the team backlog of stories (including enabler stories)
  • Participating in iteration planning, iteration review and iteration retrospective
  • Accepting stories as complete
  • Available to the agile team members to answer queries and negotiate alternative options
  • Representing the needs of customers to the team
  • Agreeing iteration goals with other agile team members
  • Using the iteration goal when interacting with stakeholders and organisational management
  • Working with the product manager and other product owners in the agile release train

Can one person do both roles is SAFe?

The SAFe structure is designed so that the PM and PO roles are not done by the same person in the same agile release train. This ensures that their attention is not divided between the team’s needs and the customer’s needs, while providing regular sync-ups to ensure everyone stays aligned.

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