Product Owner vs Product Manager. What is the Difference?


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Toluwani Folayan

May 02, 2023

Product Owner vs Product Manager. What is the Difference?

A product owner is a person charged with maximizing the worth of the product output that the development team produces. They often execute a more tactical role that involves prioritizing short-term fulfillment, while a Product Manager is charged with outlining and establishing guidelines for the product management process with broader organizational objectives in view. They often execute a more strategic role than the Product Owner.

Although both the Product manager and owner have similar goals, what primarily differentiates them is the methods they use to execute the goal.

Learn how to differentiate between a product owner and a product manager and strategies you can use to align both roles to work together.



What is Product Development?

What is a Product Owner? 

What is a Product Manager? 

Product Owner vs. Product Manager: What's the Difference?

Product Owner Skills and Responsibilities 

Product Manager Skills and Responsibilities 

Why is it important to Understand the Differences Between a Product Owner and a Product Manager 

How to Align the Product Owner and Product Manager to Work Together

What is Product Development?

Product development, often known as new product management, is a process that involves conceptualizing, designing, developing, and selling newly produced or recently relaunched goods and services.

The are four main types of new product developments. They include new to the company, enhancing an existing product, extending the product line, and new to the market. But let's not get into these types. Our focus is on Product Owner and Product manager.

What is a Product Owner?

The term "product owner" can be misleading, as it might suggest ownership or production of the final product, which isn't the case. Originating from Scrum methodology, a Product Owner (PO) crafts customer stories for the development team to incorporate.

In essence, a Product Owner (PO) plays a crucial role within the Scrum team, focusing on optimizing the product backlog to enhance the product's overall value. Scrum Guide also defines the PO as the project's primary stakeholder, often from marketing, product management, or representing the system's primary user. Consequently, they possess deep insights into customer needs, industry dynamics, competitive landscape, and market trends.

It's also important to note that the role of a Product Owner is specific to Scrum-based development cycles, where they wield independence in making critical development decisions.

Product Owner vs. Product Manager: What's the Difference?

Product managers and product owners both play crucial roles in product development, but they have distinct responsibilities within the process. A product manager typically focuses on the overall strategy and vision for the product, including market research, competitive analysis, and prioritization of features. They collaborate closely with various stakeholders to define the product roadmap and ensure alignment with business goals. On the other hand, a product owner acts as the liaison between the development team and stakeholders, primarily focusing on the day-to-day execution of the product backlog. They work closely with the development team, providing clarity on requirements, accepting or rejecting work results, and adjusting priorities based on feedback. While the product manager sets the direction, the product owner ensures the team delivers value according to that vision, often in an agile development environment.

Here are some more differences between these roles:

1. Scope of Responsibility

The Product Owner's scope of responsibility is limited to the product backlog. They work with stakeholders to define the features and requirements for the product and prioritize them based on business value. However, the Product Manager's scope of responsibility is much broader. They are responsible for the entire product lifecycle, including market research, competitive analysis, pricing, product roadmap, and more.

2. Focus

The development team is the focus of the product owner. They collaborate closely with the team to ensure they comprehend the features and needs and focus on the most critical tasks. In contrast, the Product Manager focuses more on the customer. They try to understand client demands and preferences entirely, and they use this knowledge to direct the creation and promotion of the product.

3. Time Horizon

Typically, the Product Manager has a longer time horizon than the Product Owner. This is because they are concentrated on the entire product lifespan, which may last for years or even decades. This is not the same case with Product Owners. The Product Owner is focused on delivering the next set of features or specifications for a product, which could take weeks or months.

What is a Product Manager?

A Product Manager (PM) defines and sets the framework for the product management process, aligning it with broader organizational objectives. Consequently, their role is typically more strategic compared to that of the Product Owner.

In simpler terms, a product manager determines the next steps in product development and their priority order.


Product Owner Skills and Responsibilities  

The primary responsibilities of every Product owner include the following:

1. A PO develops and coordinates user stories for the development team

A user story is a concise explanation or description of a feature or what the development team will create written from the end user's viewpoint. Most importantly, user stories are written with the user's final result in mind.

2. A PO keeps the product backlog up to date. A product backlog is a prioritized compilation of tasks for the development team produced from the roadmap and its needs. It helps the team know the first task to achieve because the essential items are displayed at the top of the product backlog.

This process can also be called backlog grooming. Backlog grooming is a system that calls for regular meetings between product owners and other stakeholders to discuss the items on the product backlog.

As a result, the backlog is prioritized, and outdated user stories and tasks are eliminated. New user stories can also be created.

3. A PO gives the product manager input on the validated roadmap. In addition, they often evaluate completed user stories to ensure the developers' work meets the required standards.


Product Manager Skills and Responsibilities  

Product managers constantly communicate with users to learn about their issues, research, develop empathy, and strategise plans to address their difficulties.

Their required skills involve the following:

  • Communication
  • Critical reasoning
  • Leadership
  • Research
  • Product Understanding
  • Empathy
  • Product knowledge
  • Decision-making.


The following categories can be used to organize some of the product manager's responsibilities:

1. Conducting user research and revealing key insights to determine users' needs.

2. Developing long-term vision and plans for a product.

3. Organising the team around a unified product map.

4. Determining the upcoming features that will be built.

5. Delivering functional features that satisfy customers and encourage the team, partners, and external stakeholders to support the product's underlying vision and direction.

Working with a cross-functional team, the product manager supervises and oversees the product management process at each product lifecycle stage. The five phases of the product life cycle are discovery and development, market introduction, growth, maturity, and decline.

In summary, the PM learns and translates customer input, studies user behavior, prioritizes features, and takes action to improve the product to optimize client experiences.

They consult with customers and other business stakeholders to determine the product's requirements. Then they write out product specifications that explain what will be developed, why, what it should accomplish, and how success will be assessed.

They also establish a product roadmap to lay out a strategy for accomplishing the long-term and product vision.


Why is it Important to Understand the Differences Between a Product Owner and a Product Manager? 

Understanding the differences between a product owner and a product manager is essential because you can only decide or justify your need for a product manager or owner in the organization once you thoroughly understand who they are.

For instance, a small to midsize company in the early stages of developing a product could employ a product manager to play both roles, manage resources, communicate needs to the development team, and create a product roadmap.

If the case were to be a large company and an agile product team, this would not be the case because the PM would have additional duties, and the development team would require more specific guidance when creating features. Therefore, in this case, you require both the PM and PO for practical and fruitful cross-functional collaboration.

Also, you may assign the wrong responsibilities to a role if you do not understand the differences between the responsibilities of a product manager and a product owner.

For instance, if your company uses Scrum to optimize products for customers and you have recently hired a product manager, the PM will likely be unable to manage the product backlog and develop customer stories.

Here, a product owner will need to step in and assist the product manager by developing those customer stories and giving the product team a comprehensive grasp of the consumer.

Lastly, if you can differentiate between these two roles, it will be easier to prioritize, assign, and validate activities for the product team to be more productive and accomplish goals faster.


How to Align the Product Owner and Product Manager to Work Together 

Building and improving a product that aids consumers in solving their problems is the common goal shared by product managers and product owners. Therefore, developing a synergy between the jobs for better processes and quicker outcomes only becomes logical.

Here are five tips that can help you achieve this:

1. Establish a product vision and common objectives.

2. Specify responsibilities and seniority in detail.

3. Set up regular meetings to talk about strategy and subsequent actions.

4. Create a framework for sharing knowledge.

5. Establish a strong framework to communicate customer insights gained from research.



Many businesses are torn between hiring a product manager, a product owner, or both. The solution to this is simple. First, create a list of tasks you want to achieve and compare each task with the responsibilities of the product owner and manager discussed above. Once you do this, it will become more apparent which role you need most in your company.

Also, remember we established that a product manager could perform a product owner's responsibilities. However, how big your business and what you produce will determine this. For instance, hiring a PM and leaving the product owner out might be wise if you run a small business.

But if your business is big and your product is complicated, you need to employ a product manager and a product owner.


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