Spotlight - Veteran Financial Services Product Manager Chuck Carr on the Difference between a Product Owner and Product Manager

By Tiyash Bandyopadhyay

Chuck Carr is a veteran Atlanta area technology product manager, having worked in companies such as Turner, AT&T, Fiserv, Intuit and FIS. Here Chuck shares his perspective on product management as a career, influencing others and the difference between a product owner and a product manager, based on his session on the same topic at ProductCamp with co-presenter Mark Knapp.

Why did you choose to speak about the difference between a product owner and a product manager at ProductCamp?

Four years ago a speaker at Product Camp introduced me to the Agile software development methodology and the Product Owner job title. At the time I didn’t understand the distinction between Product Owner and Product Manager. Leading a team of Product Managers and Product Owners and after experimenting with different staffing configurations, we realized that the product manager and product owner were each substantial and distinct roles – and best served by 2 people. I met my co-presenter Mark Knapp at ProductCamp and realized we had a meeting of minds on the topic and thought it would be useful to share.

The Product Manager is responsible for the business case, the product roadmap and high level business and product requirements.  He or she also owns many customer-facing and sales channel responsibilities and ensures that what is delivered to market is what the market will support and purchase. The Product Owner is embedded with the development team and drives the tactical execution of the product plan and the delivery of a high quality product on time. He or she is responsible for requirements at a Product Backlog Unit (PBI) level. In Agile, the PBI or product backlog item is a unit of work small enough to be completed by a team in one sprint.

Considering all of the end-to-end tasks required in each of the roles, we concluded that people just can’t be in 2 places at once -  In Agile, the PO is embedded with the development team and must be accessible practically all day, every day. If the PM is out representing the company at a tradeshow or visiting a client, he or she just inherently can’t be always accessible to the development team.

One of the goals of Agile was to bring this market and customer facing person into the development process. If they are 2 different people, doesn't it defeat the purpose? How does the product owner make sure he is in sync with the market?

That's a good question.  I always encourage overlap. I’d never want the PO to be so disconnected from the market that he or she loses touch with the customer. Nor can the PM be so disengaged from execution that the vision or timeline becomes impractical. About 10-15% of the time, the PO should be external facing and vice versa for the PM.

Chuck Carr

You are a career product manager. How have you seen product management change and not change over the years?

My first PM role was with Bellsouth/AT&T. It was a highly matrixed company. I learned there that leveraging the expertise of others was a requirement for success. Also I had a boss at that time who established a culture that the Product Manager was the CEO of his or her product and is accountable for revenue and profitability. For me, those haven’t changed.

What has changed is that conditions are more fluid – the pace of change has accelerated. Responding to change has required us to become more flexible and literally take a more ‘agile’ approach.

You took a chance and worked with Atlanta startup Vitrue for a while…

Yes, and what a growth experience! Vitrue, which since has been acquired by Oracle, was the leading provider of social media publishing software. There I learned how businesses harness the marketing potential of social media to build and manage their brands and how to measure and maximize interactions across Facebook and Twitter. I was able to bring some of that Vitrue experience to Financial Services although I think the industry is still figuring out how to fully realize the potential of social.

Payments is such a hot field – exploding in mobile and online. What are some of the things people are missing, that you know as an insider?

You’re right; it’s an exciting time. We see consumer needs and preferences evolving very quickly along with rapid advances in technology. We talk a lot about incumbents and new market entrants and prospective disruptors – how Apple and Facebook and PayPal and Square may disrupt the relationship between consumers and their current banks, credit unions and brokerages. Ongoing change and disruption are likely inevitable, but definitely financial institutions are innovating and working hard to stay relevant in this digital age and to stay connected with their customers.

What advice do you have to someone looking at Product Management as a career option?

Personally, I continue to love the challenge of product management. There are definite career progression opportunities, extending to senior leadership roles.  As a PM your scope spans the strategic and the tactical; you touch everything from business plan to product ideation to product development to marketing to sales. You do get to be CEO of your product, although the need to develop collaboration and communication skills is paramount.

One of the key skills for product managers is influence. What are your tips in developing influence?

I have seen different styles. I subscribe to a collaborative style and like to engage a broad set of stakeholders early, soliciting inputs about the opportunity and constraints at hand. I’d suggest building consensus and support for your initiatives along the way.  Also, stay nimble – allow yourself and your plan to be influenced by new information and the inputs and good council of others.

What are some of the software tools or Apps that you use regularly for work and would recommend?

Axure Interactive Wireframe Software, Loop 11 Online User Testing Tool.

Get in touch with Chuck at @Chuckatlanta on Twitter and on LinkedIn

ProductCamp is all about learning from the product management community and we are always looking for people from the Atlanta product management community to feature on our blog. To be featured on the ProductCamp blog contact me (Tiyash) on Linkedin.