What’s the difference between a project manager, product owner, and delivery manager?

Many organisations split their delivery teams into squads; within tribes; within domains – which look after areas of delivery or products. Each squad delivers from a backlog of requirements pertaining to their product. This backlog is owned by the product manager (or product owner), who’s responsible for ensuring that all the tickets within that backlog reflect and relate to key business directives, have measurable benefits, and are prioritised accordingly. The product manager is also responsible for managing the expectations of the key business stakeholders within their domain.

Each squad will have a delivery manager or, possibly, based on the size of the organisation, a delivery manager will span two or more squads. The responsibility of the delivery manager is to be the interface between the delivery team and the business. The DM ensures that the ‘definition of ready’ is achieved for tickets being put forward for the sprint and that the sprints are on track. They also remove blockers, coordinate releases and produce formal business updates.

“There’s no need for project managers in an Agile delivery organisation”

Is something you’ll regularly hear in business. While it’s true that, in a genuinely Agile software start-up, this may be the case, in a corporate environment, it’s not. When an organisation wants to deliver an initiative spanning multiple squads or domains, a project manager is absolutely required. Responsible for the delivery of an initiative with the usual ‘on time’, ‘to budget’ and ‘quality’ expectations, a project manager needs to coordinate with the product managers to ensure that project deliverables are prioritised correctly.

Project managers must also align with the delivery managers to ensure that deliveries are coordinated between the squads in order that full end-to-end functional, SIT, UAT and regression testing can be completed (prior to delivery). Once delivered, the project manager will also ensure that ‘service transition’ takes place so that an initiative can be handed off to BAU (once the warranty support period is over) and manage all the project closure activities.

In summary, these are the differences between the three roles:

  • Product manager/owner – owns the backlog within a squad
  • The delivery manager – owns the delivery of the backlog within a squad
  • The project manager – owns the delivery of projects that span multiple squads/backlogs

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