Transitioning from a Scrum Product Owner to a PMTK Product Manager

This review provides an analysis of the background, challenges, and options for a career transition path from a Scrum product owner to a PMTK product manager.

Agile Movement
Agile, the lightweight approach to software development is here to stay. The transformation movement that started in 2001 has garnered a loyal following and lasting support. The Agile base continues to grow.

Many companies have adopted the Agile mindset and many people have their entire careers centered on practicing Agile methods or providing Agile related services.

Implementing the Agile mindset is done via a selected lightweight software development method, and Scrum is the prevailing method being used by many companies to develop software the Agile way.

Changes in the Agile World
The Agile world is constantly evolving. There are countless online debates and discussions on how to improve Agile and optimize Agile methods.

Agile conferences are happening worldwide with an overwhelming number of related new topics and novel ideas being raised. Articles and books on Agile are published all the time.

The momentum in the Agile world has also introduced scaled Agile methods that help apply Agile methods at the enterprise level.

The scaled Agile methods publish their own view on how to implement Scrum and best utilize the Scrum product owner role.

The scaled Agile methods also provide their own unique individual recommendation on the responsibilities of product management. But the scaled Agile methods are also flexible enough to accept other perspectives on product management.

Most importantly, all the scaled Agile methods have grown to view the Scrum product owner role as distinctly separate (without overlap or any similarity) from the product manager role.

This present situation in the Agile world is very supportive of the career path of a Scrum product owner moving to a role in product management.

Scrum Product Owner
The Scrum product owner is a unique role that was created specifically for and by Scrum. The product owner role is not found in any other lightweight software development method.

The character of the Scrum product owner role, its scope of responsibilities and who is best suited to fulfill this role, has been the subject of many interpretations since the mid-1990s when this role was first introduced.

For a variety of reasons ranging from the similar sounding title to its designation in the Scrum guide as responsible for business results, the Scrum product owner was constantly compared to the product manager role. Widely varying perspectives had the two roles equated or seen as overlapping.

Contributing to the perception of overlap are the generalization approach (product manager does everything, aka CEO of the Product) and technology approach (product manager is part of product development, and subservient to the development method) in product management.

These two unsupported approaches, which are represented in the general product manager and the technical product manager job types, allow modifying the product manager's role according to product development needs.

Consequently, at many software companies the Scrum product owner role is being performed by either a former general or technical product manager who was converted to a Scrum product owner, or by an acting general or technical product manager who is simultaneously a Scrum product owner.

But things are always changing. There is a growing realization that product management is a critical strategic function outside of product development. There is also an evolution of thinking in the Agile world on how to apply and manage Scrum or its alternatives at the team level, particularly with the introduction and ongoing adoption of scaled Agile methods.

These trends now have software companies employing former project managers, product line managers, and technical people who all have no background or inclination in product management to be pure Scrum product owners, instead of using product managers for the Scrum product owner role as was originally done.

The resulting effect is essentially separating product management from product development, and unlinking the product manager from the Scrum product owner.

After doing the same job for a while, Scrum product owners like anyone else are looking for the next challenge. One option for advancement for Scrum product owners is to transition to be Scrum Masters. While these two Scrum roles are different in character and responsibilities, the move is not too difficult for an experienced practitioner with a capable mind. But this move is not perceived as a real career change of meaningful professional growth.

So the natural career progression for experienced Scrum product owners, with their accumulated product knowledge and growing skill set, is to transition from product development to product management.

Making the Move
The shift from a Scrum product owner position to a general or technical product manager position is very easy for a practicing Scrum product owner, from a skills perspective. The experienced Scrum product owner is already prepared for this career move.

Experienced Scrum product owners are knowledgeable about the product, familiar with product development practices, informed on the Agile methods used by the company, and have interfaced with and seen how product management works at that company.

With the move to product management come new duties that must be learned. The publicly available general or technical product management training courses that attempt to teach a large mix of business, marketing, project, development, tactical, and technical topics are good for absolute beginners, but inconsequential and will not add much to Scrum product owners who already have relevant workplace experience.

Consequently, the additional duties that the experienced Scrum product owners must learn when they transition to the general or technical product manager position are best learned on the job by doing actual work.

By their nature and broad interpretation, a general or technical product manager position will very likely still include a host of product development or project/operational/technical activities. These activities will be relatively familiar to the experienced Scrum product owner, and are possibly the origin of the perception of overlap between the Scrum product owner and the general or technical product manager roles.

But this is a caveat. These time-consuming project/operational/technical activities could detract the general or technical product manager from learning how to focus and devote themselves to the strategic aspects of product management which enable real professional growth. This is somewhat of a hindrance yet not at a magnitude to offset the benefits of being in product management.

Regardless, after some time on the job as a general or technical product manager, the product person matures and seeks a change.

This new level of maturity in turn creates a motivation to seek a more specialized and dedicated type of product manager position, a type of product manager role that enables strategic growth more than the previous generalized or technical product management roles could afford.

This specialized strategic type of product manager role that encourages strategic aptitude and is focused on vision and strategic thinking is the PMTK product manager.

PMTK Product Manager
The PMTK product manager works according to the Blackblot PMTK Methodology™ for product management.

The PMTK product manager is a market expert who seeks potentially profitable market problems and describes them to product developers who respond with product features. The PMTK product manager is at its core a strategic role that manages the market problem which the product solves.

Adhering to the second PMTK foundation rule of "Product management resides solely in the problem space" effectively means that product management owns the problem space and product development owns the solution space. This also means that the PMTK product manager does not have any active role in product development.

The transition from a Scrum product owner to a PMTK product manager can take some time and this career path usually goes through a general or technical product manager position as an interim phase.

This interim phase is most certain to happen because most technology-driven companies offer general and technical product manager type positions. Technology-driven companies are always focused on developing better technology and are dominated by engineers and the engineering mindset.

However, at technology-driven companies that have adopted scaled Agile methods, the product manager will find the organization far more receptive to accepting a gradual shift towards reshaping the scope of a product manager position to lean closer to the PMTK product manager role.

Beginning the Transition
The transition to a PMTK product manager is a major conceptual career change and a preparation step for a future opportunity. It is not the endgame, but a turning point where the practitioner has decided to move from the technical world, the solution space, to the business oriented problem space.

Fundamentally, the transition from a Scrum product owner to a PMTK product manager is not about acquiring a new skill set with new responsibilities but a personal internal change in which deterministic technical thinking is replaced by strategic market thinking.

If you are a Scrum product owner who is contemplating a transition to a PMTK product manager then the first thing you should do is gain a basic understanding of the Blackblot PMTK Methodology™, its fundamental concepts and the PMTK foundation rules. This is to verify that the methodology resonates with your way of thinking and fits your personality.

Start by viewing the What is Product Management? narrated video presentation which explains the definition of product management according to the Blackblot PMTK Methodology™. Then proceed to expand your knowledge with more in-depth content by reading the Definition of Product Management - Blackblot PMTK Book Chapter.

Similarly, you now need to gauge at a cursory level the degree of product management maturity that your current company exhibits by completing the Blackblot Product Management Maturity Evaluator. Then proceed with a more in-depth analysis and explore the effects and degree of the technology-driven environment at your workplace by completing the Blackblot Technology-Driven Evaluator which will provide a score and an assessment.

At this stage you should be able to estimate your own disposition to become a PMTK product manager and simultaneously determine the level of receptiveness you can expect from your organization to accept and help with this move.

Should you decide to proceed then now comes the learning part when you must invest time and effort to learn the Blackblot PMTK Methodology™. Your learning options include comprehensive instructor-led classroom training with a full training package of supporting products and services, or self-study.

The self-study option is a viable route which many have taken, and you should begin by reading the second edition of The Product Manager's Toolkit: Methodologies, Processes and Tasks in Technology Product Management book. Then review the many short posts and articles in the Powered by Blackblot™ Knowledge Base, a dynamic repository of PMTK core knowledge.

Self-learning continues by engaging all available Blackblot Content Retention Tool™ questionnaires that correspond to the PMTK book chapters. The Blackblot CRTs further deepen PMTK knowledge with a series of multiple-choice questions. Also review the major templates in the Blackblot Product Manager's Toolkit® (PMTK) professional template collection.

By now you should know the Blackblot PMTK Methodology™ well enough to confidently take and successfully pass the Blackblot Product Management Professional™ (BPMP) certification program tests. You should strive to become a Master BPMP as it is emerging as the top career and professional differentiator for product managers.

Culminate the effort and complete the Blackblot Qualified Professional™ Evaluator which will help human resource managers and recruiters to objectively assess your professional competency level in product management, according to the Blackblot PMTK Methodology™. It is recommended that you attach the resulting evaluator PDF report to your CV.

It is the end of your preparation journey and you are now at a formidable vantage point in your quest for a strategic and career changing opportunity as a PMTK product manager.

This analytical review outlined the various aspects of a Scrum product owner to a PMTK product manager transition.

This review presented how, in the spirit of change and transformation that is a core part of the Agile movement, the introduction of scaled Agile methods presently supports this career move.

The transition from a Scrum product owner to a PMTK product manager is a serious and demanding endeavor. It will open totally new and enriching career opportunities yet requires enduring commitment to the product management profession.