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Product Owner vs. Project Manager: What’s the Difference?

By JP Owens 11.18.21
Reading time: 4 minutes

At Silverline, we’re passionate about how technology can help solve business problems. But we’ll let you in on a little secret: technology is only as good as the team implementing it.

We’ve done countless projects with hundreds of clients in financial services, healthcare, and media and entertainment, and the most successful implementations years later are those with strong internal teams and clearly designated responsibilities.

Whether you’re starting from scratch with Salesforce or looking to get more out of your current implementation, assembling the right team members (and the right partner, naturally) go a long way toward ensuring your future success. You need:

  • A product owner
  • A project manager

What’s the difference between a product owner and a project manager? We’ll dive into who owns what — and a few other teammates you should consider including:

The product owner is the go-to person for Salesforce

If Salesforce is designed to be your single source of truth for key data points and campaigns within your organization, your product owner is the person that “owns” the technology platform. There’s no doubt that Salesforce can be a complex system, especially if you have multiple business units or subsidiaries on the same system. The product owner is the person your team can ask questions, report issues, or request updates.

Your assigned product owner is a critical role responsible for ensuring that your priorities align with your overall vision for your implementation project, and has the skills to successfully navigate multiple stakeholders, change technological requirements, and lead project managers, engineers, and external partners to the finish line. This includes day-to-day operations like working with executive sponsors, charting a product roadmap and milestones, and determining change management and training plans.

This may be a technical role such as a Salesforce administrator, but it doesn’t have to be. What matters is less about technical expertise and more about mindshare and leadership, especially if you’re approaching a new implementation or Salesforce project. 

The project manager keeps all the details straight

This should be a technical yet business process-minded individual that works for a division of the organization that services the organization as a whole.

Project management is a discipline all its own, and requires a rigorous, detail-oriented team member that can juggle multiple stakeholders, tasks, and priorities in order to get the job done on time and on budget. This includes day-to-day operations like running and scheduling meetings, collecting technical requirements, corralling stakeholders, and tracking performance.

Project managers don’t have to have any technical expertise to be successful at implementing Salesforce projects, though it’s helpful to have experience working with technical teams and timelines, such as the agile scrum methodology, or sprint and backlog planning. The more organized they are, the more likely your team will complete the project without unnecessary headaches. 

Product owner vs. project manager: What’s the difference?

While the product owner is the go-to person handling high-level vision and priorities, it’s the project manager that’s in the details getting each task done. The product owner cares about the overall Salesforce platform at a high level, and the implementation as an organization, while the project manager works to complete the specific projects that make up that implementation.

Essentially, the product owner handles strategy, while the project manager handles execution. Both are integral to the success of the project. 

Build out the rest of your Salesforce implementation team

But the product owner and project manager are just two of the important people on your team that make a Salesforce project happen. Here’s who else you may want to tap:

Your executive sponsor kicks off the project

Digital transformation is just that — a transformation. It requires effort not just from your IT or technology team, but stakeholders across the business, from marketing, sales, operations, finance, and more. As you move deeper into your Salesforce journey, it’s essential to have executive buy-in on Salesforce as a platform.

Your executive sponsor may be hands-off when it comes to the actual implementation — that’s the product owner’s role, after all — but their support is what gets the project off the ground, ensures that budget is available for enhancements and updates, and helps establish top-down support for changing processes and technologies for the entire organization.

Your change champions make the implementation stick

Change champions are your cross-functional network individuals who help drive the progress and assess the impact of Salesforce, as well as establish a 360-degree feedback loop. They provide ongoing motivation and support to individuals on their teams, as well as communication channels to achieve successful adoption as quickly as possible. 

Building this network provides positive role models that build readiness and acceptance to enable a faster, better, and smarter implementation of changes. Just like your “voices of the customer” surveys, panels, or focus groups, consider your change champions your internal focus group — an ear to the ground on what’s going on.

Your change champions should:

  • Participate in key Salesforce team meetings and weekly Champions meetings 
  • Demonstrate excitement, commitment, and support to Salesforce with your colleagues
  • Engage in two-way communications between your department and the Salesforce team, asking questions, sharing feedback, and raising concerns

It all comes together in a Center of Excellence (COE)

Bring these roles together for one team, often called a Center of Excellence, or COE. A Center of Excellence drives stability and innovation for your organization’s Salesforce solution, managing the Salesforce platform, addressing enhancements, and crafting strategy to move forward as an organization.

In general, anyone in the technology organization that works directly with Salesforce should be part of your CoE, from solution architects to developers and project managers. Establishing a CoE gives your organization a single competency center that ensures your program runs smoothly, long after the initial implementation is completed. 

To begin building out a Center of Excellence, you need to develop a plan that starts with understanding how architecture, governance, delivery, and value realization are necessary to ensure the investments you make in your CRM program are being upheld on your roadmap to long-term success.

Choose the right implementation partner to do the heavy lifting

That’s us. Silverline is here to make sure you get the most out of your Salesforce investment, whether you’re just starting to think about implementation or want to get the most out of a new set of features from the latest release.

Want some help with your Salesforce strategy or understanding Salesforce best practices? Silverline is here to help! Contact us to learn more.

Ready to see real results? We can help.

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