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23 March 2023

Maximize Recurring Value From Your CS Technology With A Product Team

by Jason Bouros Reading time: 8 mins
product management

Understanding Your Product Ecosystem

In the world of B2B SaaS, a fierce debate has been raging about the roles and responsibilities a Product Owner (PO) and Product Manager (PM) play in your CS Technology landscape. Enterprise leaders have had to contend with some common questions plaguing product management and these roles:

  • What are the differences between Product Owners and Product Managers? 
  • What are the responsibilities of a Product Manager and Product Owner and who ranks higher in the organization? 
  • Do we need both to drive effective technology design for our team?

Given the growing importance of enterprise technology management, it’s time to unpack these questions and provide some much-needed clarity.

As your organization scales and you find yourself contending with highly complex IT ecosystems, the relationship between a Product Owner and a Product Manager in a Customer Success (CS) organization is critical, especially when it comes to the successful implementation of CS tools and the adoption of agile methodologies. While the goal of these two roles is the same, their responsibilities are distinctly different. Without a clear understanding of the similarities and differences between a PM and PO and best practices for building and maintaining this team, you’re impeding your organization’s ability to drive optimal value and generate efficient revenue with the systems that support it.

In this article, we breakdown the key differences between Product Managers and Product Owners, the common challenges organizations face when building a Product-supported CS technology ecosystem and how you can overcome these challenges to build an effective product management team that streamlines and accelerates customer value delivery.

What’s the Real Difference Between a Product Owner and a Product Manager?

Behind the successful launch, implementation and operationalization of every enterprise-level software solution is a powerful product management team led by both a Product Owner and Product Manager. Understanding how these roles differ is the first step to uncovering inefficiencies and opportunities in your PO/PM team. 

A Product Manager is responsible for the strategy driving the development, launch, continual support and improvement of your company’s technology solutions. They are also in charge of the overall strategy of your CS tools – how they are being used today and how they will be used in the future based on the needs of your CS organization. This overall strategy is called a Roadmap.  

The Product Owner is responsible for taking that overall strategy (or roadmap) and breaking it down into tactical stories that can be accomplished by realizers such as Systems Admins or Developers. This list of stories or bite-sized solutions is called the backlog. The Product Owner is responsible for managing the backlog on a day-to-day basis and ensuring that a level of detail can be provided that explicitly tells the realizers what to build. As the Product Owner role traces back to the scrum agile methodology for project management, they are most helpful in organizations that employ an agile development approach.

While these roles have some key differences, they overlap in the overall goal of ensuring that CS tools are built in a way that enables the CS team to perform their roles more efficiently and effectively. However, many organizations that adopt an agile approach to managing their CS technology suite face a number of common issues when building an effective PO/PM team.

4 Common Challenges of Building an Effective PO/PM Team

1. Lack Of Direction From the leadership Team

The most common and most complex challenge is a lack of understanding on a leadership level on how best to leverage the PO and PM roles to support their CS teams.  Without a centralized direction enforced and promoted by your leadership team, the PO/PM relationship will suffer. They will be given objectives and tasks that, at best, don’t serve their roles and, at worst, will be in direct conflict with those of the other role, leading to inefficiencies, confusion and conflict.

Solution: Your leadership team must be clear in what they expect from the Product Manager and Product Owner roles and their place within the organization. Both roles should have clearly defined responsibilities that are understood by executive leaders as well as individual contributors, such as CSMs and CS Operations associates who will be working with those roles on a daily basis. 

Customer Success leadership should also be unified in their vision of the scope, objectives and value of each CS tool. This will give the Product Manager the required direction to start building a cohesive strategy via a Roadmap and the Product Owner can then break that down into tactical steps to turn that Roadmap into reality.

2. Lack of Training

The Product Owner and Product Manager roles are both complex and require a solid foundation in their respective disciplines. Unfortunately, a lack of training and support for the individuals undertaking these roles is prevalent in many organizations. To ensure alignment with the business motion, CS practitioners or CSM platform admins may be enlisted to perform either or both of these roles.  While that can add a ton of value to the design and delivery, the criticality of their comfort with agile methodologies is key.

Solution: Training should be the first step in your PO/PM onboarding process. It should never be assumed that a role that is transitioning into a Product Owner or Product Manager role can do so without training, especially when it exists in a CS organization where this practice is still new. New Product Owners and Product Managers must be given ample training and the support required of team members taking on an exciting new discipline. This training can be supplied by professionals within the organization or by third parties who specialize in agile and/or product management training. Couple this training with guidance on the customer success tools being utilized across the organization.

3. Lack of Communication

The PM/PO relationship requires communication to be successful. If the PO does not understand what the PM envisions as the future of technology solutions, then what is being built today will likely not serve the CS and wider teams in the long run. This can lead to a potentially damaging situation where your team is implementing solutions without a unified design that could erode the trust of the CS organization at large. 

Solution: The easiest and most effective way to ensure communication is by enforcing agile ceremonies within the team responsible for building and maintaining your organization’s CS tools. At first, these ceremonies will require an upfront investment of time and effort but with experience they will allow your Product Owner, Product Manager and realizers to communicate consistently and efficiently. These ceremonies will ensure that issues and feedback provided by your users are captured regularly and visible to the entire team.

4. Limited Understanding of Agile Principles

Across the B2B technology industry, there is an overarching lack of understanding of the core principles of agile. The Product Owner and Product Manager must be fanatical in their approach and knowledge of agile to foster a culture where the CS organization has confidence in the solutions being built and in the Product team’s ability to address their pain points. Anything that decreases your CS organization’s trust in the team building the tools for CS also decreases the organization’s trust in those tools.

Solution: Be agile, think agile, work agile. Your Product Owners and Product Managers should be your champions for agile but your entire CS organization should be endorsing the same philosophy. It is crucial that the Product Owner and Product Manager are fanatical and excited when discussing and using agile. This will ensure that other team members are knowledgeable about agile practices and adopt best practices. The Product Owner and Product Manager should become the de facto agile coaches within your CS organization and be ready to answer any questions or concerns about how agile processes will enable their issues and needs to be addressed by CS tools quickly, flexibly and with a focus on user needs and experience aligned with business strategy.

The Power Of Product Management

At their core, both the Product Manager and Product Owner work together towards a shared goal; creating a product that brings value to the CS organization within their company. By understanding the differences between these roles and their respective responsibilities, and avoiding the common pitfalls of building a product management team, you can ensure that your organization is set up to deliver maximum customer value.

Jason Bouros

Jason is a Certified Product Manager who has extensive experience working with multiple products with methodologies ranging from waterfall to Agile as well as Pragmatic Marketing. These products areas include SaaS, telecommunications, Voice over IP (VOIP), mobile application, enterprise and customer facing. He has a passion for Agile Transformation and enabling companies to achieve value more quickly.