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We have one technology manager and three product managers. As our small startup grows from 4 people to almost 100 I had assumed that our new product managers would also be 'project managers.' (The tech managers used to fill in as the 'project managers' before we had PM.) That is not necessarily happening. There is too much overlap and not enough distinct responsibility.

Our team looks like this (number of persons in role at the end):

  • Product team with product managers: 3
  • Programmers: 16
  • QA: 4
  • Director Technology : 1
  • Director Engineering : 1

We practice a non-rigid agile-like methodology, but we are not Scrum ideologues. We set aside about 3 weeks worth of work, estimate it, put it into Jira, and assign to devs. But the PM often changes requirements during the work cycle.

Recently I have been thinking that perhaps the flexibility that this accords us is having a deleterious effect in that the product mangers now have the ability to tweak requirements, sometimes based on beta testing with early adopters during the sprint. This is causing minor finger pointing. Engineers feel like PM keep changing things up. PM feel like devs are perhaps slower than they should be. The CEO doesn't know if we are doing a good job of driving accountability and productivity.

  • Possibly related – Mark C. Wallace Jul 3 '13 at 14:53
  • Out of curiosity, I understand you practice scrum-but, but neither of the three "manager" roles you mention are scrum or agile related. Why is the [agile] tag necessary then? – Sklivvz Jul 4 '13 at 10:35
  • It's my belief that Agile refers to the 12 principles in the Agile manifesto, which I won't relate here, but we ascribe strongly to about 10 of those and loosely to the other 2. Scrum is just one way to be Agile. I find SCRUM to be, ironically, fairly rigid. – BoomTownTech Jul 4 '13 at 12:09
  • The fact that you use waterfall roles makes me doubt that you are doing agile like you say you do. – Sklivvz Jul 8 '13 at 9:24
  • @Sklivvz We have 3 week sprints. Each team has qa, engineers, designer, PM. We are pretty Agile that way, but we don't do the card estimations, and we don't have a scrum master. We do have a PM that works with our founders to decide strategically what our next set of features should look like. – BoomTownTech Jul 8 '13 at 11:46
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It does not matter. What you are missing is a strong PM capability. You need to designate in a legitimate way the role of PM, give that role the necessary accountability, responsibilities, and authority, put a person in that role who has the requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities to execute, and then press GO.

5

Asking your Product Managers to also perform the Project Management role is probably not the wisest course. There is usually a tension between the two roles. And it is extremely difficult for a single individual to pull off both roles at the same time. Generally, if one person is trying to do both, one of the two sides will get less attention than it should. I say this as a Project Manager that has often had to wear the Product Manager hat (and I freely admit that the best projects I've managed have been those that have had someone else fill the Product Manager role).

Let's look at the two roles.

Product Manager - Usually trying to help ensure that the "best" possible product is delivered. Making sure that it gives a good customer experience. Focus is not on how long it will take or what the cost will be. I'm not saying that they don't care about those things, just that they are supposed to take a back seat to the quality and customer satisfaction as far as Product Manager goes.

Project Manager - Usually trying to help ensure that the project gets done. And that it is done on time and on budget with few defects. Focus is not on whether the customers like the end result. Again, I'm not saying that the Project Manager doesn't care about the customers, just that it is generally not their focus.

There is a natural give-and-take between these two roles. Product Owners want to modify scope based on what they think will give the best experience to the end users. Project Owners push back, indicating the impact to budget and schedule. In a good relationship between the two, they'll see if maybe something else can be cut, or find out if another solution can meet both needs. Or flipping the situation... Project Manager might see that the schedule is in jeopardy, and discuss with the Product Owner what can safely be cut or simplified in order to meet the budget and schedule. While it is possible for a single individual to do this on their own, it is a difficult balance to maintain.

Having 6 product owners seems like overkill based on the information that you've provided so far. I'd suggest seeing if one of them has an aptitude (and interest) in project management, and changing their role. But one way or another, you need to have someone that is focused on that role.

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Project Management as Distinct Role

Project management is a distinct role, and a distinct career path. Whether your project is shepherded by a Project Manager, a Scrum Master, or a Grand Poohbah of Process isn't the point; the issue is that you need formal project controls and a formal role to manage them if you want your organization to move beyond "catch-as-catch-can project management."

The bottom line is that, according to you, your current process is not working. Continuing to follow the same informal non-process will not generate improved results, so it's probably time to review your process and your project management framework to identify what isn't working for your organization—then do something different.

  • Startups can't always afford hiring for distinct roles, as we grow, many of us take off another hat, some of us still wear quite a few.. PM has been one we have been doing by committee. Thanks for you comments. – BoomTownTech Jul 3 '13 at 16:46
  • I'm at a similarly sized companies and we had very bad experiences with using Product Managers as Project Managers. We are moving into a situation where an individual can be both, just not for the same projects. – Melissa Jul 12 '13 at 23:28
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I am not a big fan of "Job Titles", however more interested in skill and competence of the individual that fulfils the role. The question rather is "Can person , do the job of both Product Manager and Project Manager, without being overloaded and in conflict?"

I know folks that can easily jump between the two roles and not impact the project, however others are strong in one role and weak in the other which negatively impacts the product.

A title does not mean competence, its just a label used on a business card. The reality is if you compare any one title across multiple companies, you will quickly find that each is completely different. The position normally morphs into what the organisation needs.

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