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What's the Difference Between Product Manager and Delivery Lead in Continuous Discovery and Delivery Teams?

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30 Aug

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2022

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There are two fundamental high-level tasks each product team has to deal with: discovering the product to be built and delivering that product to the market. So, when talking about delivery lead vs product manager in Agile teams, the product manager's (PM) primary job is to shape the product, and the delivery lead's (also known as delivery manager) primary activity is to deliver the product (though each role takes part in both processes). 

Both discovery and delivery run in parallel. That's why we should define the two roles as a part of continuous discovery and delivery.

Seems more than clear, but after years of experience providing UI/UX design services as a part of numerous product teams, we can state that most companies still have a process that is essentially Waterfall at its core (even if they call it Agile), where discovery is only the first step of product development. Such an approach causes many products to fail, and here is why.

What's wrong with the way most companies organize their product development process?

In most organizations, no matter what their size is, the product development process looks something like this:

the scheme of waterfall product  development process
  1. The company gets ideas from stakeholders, business owners, or customers. 
  2. Then, ideas are prioritized into a roadmap. But to prioritize, they first need some business case for each item to learn how much value it will make and how much money or time it will cost. Based on this information, they build the roadmap. 
  3. A product manager will then choose the top priority issue and speak with the stakeholders to develop the concept and create a list of "requirements" (user stories). User stories are needed to convey to the designers and engineers what has to be produced.
  4. Once the company has defined requirements, it asks the design team to visualize the idea with UI/UX design (if the company decides to onboard a design team).
  5. Next, engineers get the requirements and design specifications to implement the idea (that's where Agile finally comes into play, as engineers usually divide the work into sprints to develop and test the concept in parallel).
  6. If the QA testing isn't included in those sprints, the QA team will do additional testing to ensure the new concept functions as intended.
  7. Finally, when QAs approve the implemented idea, it is deployed and introduced to customers.

Such a process doesn’t look much like Agile and serves as a reason for many problems:

  • It takes a very long time for the idea to reach actual customers. 
  • Roadmaps risk turning into a list of features that different departments want you to implement (and most probably, at least half of those ideas won't work as you expect).
  • The product manager turns into a project manager who only gathers requirements and passes them to developers.
  • The company can't get the full value of UX design, as designers are introduced into the process too late (if introduced at all).
  • The same problem is with developers. Though they can make a great contribution to product innovation, engineers are asked only to write the code in many companies and are brought into the product development process very late. 
  • Customer validation happens far too late. As a result, businesses invest time and money in activities that don't actually benefit them.

What is the way out of this situation? Both product discovery and product delivery should run in parallel and continually. In strong product teams, product managers, designers, delivery leads (if any), and developers work closely to build the high-quality product that users love.

Now, let's define product manager and delivery lead roles regarding ongoing product discovery and delivery.

How product manager and delivery lead fit into continuous discovery and delivery

To begin with, let’s see what these two processes are supposed to look like.

the scheme of continuous discovery and delivery process

Product discovery aims to distinguish between good and bad ideas and, as a result, let the team get a validated product backlog. The close cooperation between product management, user experience design, and engineering teams is a key discovery component. Before building the solution, these specialists work together and conduct experiments to eliminate risks by finding answers to the following questions:

  • Will people be willing to use this solution and pay for it?
  • Can the solution/feature be built from a technical point of view?
  • Will the software/feature be easy enough for people to use?
  • Will stakeholders back the concept?

When the team has evidence that the idea they are going to implement is valuable enough from the customer's standpoint and technically feasible, it's time to deliver it.

Product delivery aims to build and release high-quality technological solutions that people will buy and businesses will benefit from. Continuous delivery enables teams to produce products/features in short cycles, ensuring that they can be reliably released with greater speed and frequency. 

Continuous discovery and delivery mean that the team is doing all the activities mentioned above weekly as a part of their regular duties. Such processes cover everything, from determining if enough consumers want this solution to developing impactful products that benefit clients and the business. This way, spending time on solid research impacts development positively, and that's how companies should work. 

Continuous discovery and delivery work especially well for product-led companies, as they focus only on those products/features that bring more value to the end-user.

We've best experienced this connection between discovery and delivery when working as remote designers on Haven Diagnostics, the software that evaluates disease spread risks in offices. They wanted to learn who their users were before developing the product. Our designer was constantly communicating with the CEO (who performed the role of a PM as well) and an engineer, discussing their vision and expectations and brainstorming design ideas to form the final product. Then, they tested the best concepts with users.

During the brainstorming, we came up with ideas for improving the calculations' accuracy and better adjusting the results to individual clients' needs. Although this procedure didn't directly affect the design, it influenced the back-end and raised the product's quality.

the product created in continuous discovery and delivery
A piece of Haven Diagnostics’ interface

There are numerous tasks within the two continuous processes that the team has to perform day-to-day. The product manager and delivery lead should assist the team and ensure they’re building the right thing for customers and the business.

responsibilities of a product manager and delivery lead
The tasks the team has to complete during the product development process. Image credit: presentation “Continuous discovery in Product-led companies” by Pendo and GLIDR 

Let’s take a closer look at what PMs and delivery managers do day-to-day as a part of the continuous discovery and delivery.

Product manager role and responsibilities

We’ll start with a role of a product manager as the one most engaged in the discovery part.

A good product manager is most aligned with defining the scope, the product vision, the target audience, and the problems a product should solve. These people serve as a voice of customers to the whole organization. So, in traditional project management, a PM's job is to ensure the team of developers has a product worth building. 

Here is the list of PMs' main responsibilities:

  • Collect user feedback (preferably from a direct source such as self-serve comments, Customer Success Team, and so on). 
  • Categorize requests into specific ideas and themes so the company can track the number of requests on each.
  • To make them feel heard, let customers know when an issue has been resolved.
  • Deeply research the product data to understand the true picture and recognize patterns.
  • Define users who interact with the product's relevant elements and study them more deeply.
  • Conduct generative interviews to help the team understand what data can't explain.
  • Encourage clients to share their experiences to provide the complete context.
  • Come up with multiple solutions and test them to understand which best leads to the desired outcome.
  • Try different solutions with different segments to see if they are solving the problem in a desirable and usable way.
  • Choose the best option by comparing and contrasting, and ensure the solution solves a real problem.
  • Share the "why" with the engineering team, not just the "what," so they can make decisions that align better with the customer's needs.
  • Together with developers, present the product to small test groups to collect feedback and usage data.
  • As the release improves, test on additional customer segments.

By the way, most of the activities described above are done in cooperation of a product manager with a UX designer.

Delivery lead role and responsibilities

Many product managers in growing companies are overwhelmed with project management tasks, distracting them from their primary duties. And that's where delivery managers come in handy.

The delivery manager is the project manager most responsible for delivering the product on time and to quality and standards. Their main duty is to speed up the development team's work by eliminating obstacles (impediments) that may occur during development. For this purpose, delivery leads may communicate with the marketing department, delivery leads from other teams, designers, and more.

The delivery manager is a role, not necessarily a separate position in an organization. Very often, delivery leads have the title of a Scrum Master, project manager, or program manager. It doesn't matter how you call this person if there's someone to do the job.

Delivery managers' daily responsibilities include:

  • Looking for and resolving any issues that might hinder the product's development;
  • Taking under control any risks and dependencies.
  • Managing team structure and assigning people to teams.
  • According to Agile methodology, ensuring that projects and products are delivered as expected.
  • Ensuring the iterative process on deliverables when necessary.
  • Ensuring smooth communication between the Founder and the team.
  • Overseeing and mentoring QA and Tech leads.
  • Facilitating Agile ceremonies, for example, stand-ups, sprint planning, backlog grooming, and retrospective meetings.
  • Overseeing the projects' timelines and budgets.
  • Fostering an efficient and creative work environment to boost team performance.

To sum up, the delivery lead position is all focused on assisting the team in pushing projects forward more quickly—not by yelling at them, but by getting rid of roadblocks.

Delivery lead vs product manager: who to hire 

When discussing the necessity of hiring a product manager, the short answer would be, "Yes, you need this professional on your team." Product managers are primarily responsible for the product's success, communicating a clear vision and strategy, so they play an essential role in product development. In small companies, the role of a product manager is often performed by CEOs, founders, and so on.

As for the delivery manager, we've already discussed that this person can have the title of a Scrum Master, project manager, or program manager. If your organization doesn't have a delivery manager (regardless of their title), then the product manager or engineering managers often handle this function. And for small startups, it works completely fine. However, if your company has more than five product teams, we'd highly recommend you hire both a product manager and a delivery lead.

After all, it all comes down to the product development team structure and what works better for each specific project.

To sum up

Understanding the distinct roles and responsibilities of a product manager and a delivery lead is crucial for the success of any project. The product manager, with their deep focus on user needs and product vision, plays a pivotal role in shaping the product's direction and ensuring that it addresses real-world problems effectively. On the other hand, the delivery lead, often wearing the hat of a Scrum Master or project manager, is instrumental in facilitating the smooth execution of the development process, removing impediments, and ensuring timely delivery of the product.

The synergy between these two roles is vital in any product team, especially in Agile environments where continuous discovery and delivery are the norm. For startups and smaller companies, balancing these roles efficiently can be a challenge, often requiring founders or CEOs to take on multiple responsibilities. However, as organizations grow and the complexity of projects increases, the need for specialized product managers and delivery leads becomes more pronounced.

Ultimately, the decision to hire a product manager and a delivery lead should be based on the specific needs of the project and the structure of the team. Both roles are essential in their own right, and their effective collaboration can significantly enhance the quality, usability, and market success of the product. As companies navigate the ever-evolving world of product development, understanding and leveraging the unique contributions of these roles will be key to building powerful, user-centric products that stand out in the market.

Need a helping hand with your design? Whether you're a product manager striving to define vision and strategy or a delivery lead focusing on execution and metrics, Eleken designers integrate smoothly into your workflow. We excel in collaborating with diverse team structures, ensuring that our designs not only look great but also align perfectly with your business goals and project timelines.

Don't let role confusion slow down your project. Let Eleken's designers be the catalyst for your success. Contact us today to see how our adaptable and skilled team can make a significant difference in your project's trajectory.

Kateryna Mayka

Writer at Eleken