Drawing a clear line between a product owner vs. product manager can be tough, given their varying roles from company to company. Factors such as the adoption of Scrum, size of the company, the structure of departments, and others also come into play.
Despite any difference in roles, both the product manager and the product owner share a common goal: building products that create value for the stakeholders. Although there are differences in the two roles, the broad, common goal means that there are also overlapping responsibilities of a product owner and a product manager.
In this post – we will make it clear how Product Owner vs. Product Manager’s roles differ, what skills each need to have to excel in their roles, why you need both in your product team and when is a good time to hire for those roles!
In a hurry? Jump to the relevant section:
- What Are The Differences Between Product Owner vs Product Manager
- Product Manager Role
- Product Manager Skills
- Product Owner Role
- Product Owner Skills
- Why do you need a Product Manager and a Product Owner + When to Hire Them
TL;DR? Grab Our Bite-Sized Summary
- The key difference between Product Owner vs. Product Manager’s roles is the stage in the product development process where each is involved.
- A general Product Manager comes earlier in the process is more strategic and business/stakeholders-focused
- A PM’s will do the initial research, user interviews, collecting user feedback and data
- The Product Owner is tactical and development-focused; the PM translates the insights collected by the PM into actionable tasks, stories, and epics for the developers
- The PO is the person managing scrum/agile and doing the daily standups
- “Product Manager is responsible for the “Why”, while Product Owner – for the “What” – Margaret Zablocka, CEO of Onoco
- The Product Owner role is tightly linked to the Scrum development framework – “Product Owner is a ROLE you play on a Scrum team. Product Manager is the JOB title” (Melissa Perri, CEO of Produx Labs)
- A smaller organization may not need two distinct roles and the duties of both the PM and the PO will usually fall under the ‘Product Manager’.
- As your organization and the complexity of your development projects grows, it may be more efficient to split the duties between a Product Manager and. a Product Owner.
- In larger product teams a Product Owner leads the development process, while the Product Manager talks to users, user personas and business stakeholders, and takes a more holistic role in the overall product management.
What Are The Differences Between Product Owner vs Product Manager?
To cut the long story short: a Product Owner is a more specialized Product Manager, focusing on the second part of the product development process (marked in orange below) – the actual *development*:
“Product owners are usually the bridge between more general product managers and engineering teams.” – says Yazan Sehwail, Product Manager and CEO of Userpilot, a product adoption platform for product teams.
Product Owners are the ones creating the tasks, stories, managing scrum/agile, doing the daily standups…etc, while PMs are spending their time with the initial research, user interviews, collecting user feedback and data.
The differentiating aspect of a Product Owner from a Product Manager is a Scrum team.
According to Produx Labs CEO Melissa Perri, “Product Owner is a ROLE you play on a Scrum team. Product Manager is the JOB title.”
While product management and Scrum can go along quite well and be interconnected, product management is not dependent on Scrum. It can exist independently and within any other framework.
To sum up:
- The Product Manager is more strategic and business/stakeholders-focused while the Product Owner is tactical and development-focused;
- Product Owner role is a subset of the Product Manager rule – i.e. The PO can be replaced by the development manager but that’s not the case for the PM;
- Product Manager’s day to day job is more externally/market-facing, while the Product Owner is more internally/development-facing;
- The Product Manager defines the overall vision and product roadmap, while the Product Owner creates epics and user stories based on the Product Manager’s instructions
- “In simple terms, POs own features, PMs own product roadmaps” – Sasha Bonder, Product Manager at CVS Health
Let’s delve into the roles of a Product Manager and a Product Owner for getting a clearer picture of the differences between them, and why you actually need both on your product team.
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A product manager plans and thinks long-term regarding the product strategy, vision, and market conditions while continually looking for breakthroughs. The practice of product management spans the development of the product, its launch, and its continual improvement. It can also go beyond the product itself, as a product manager can be involved in product marketing, budgeting, long-term strategies, customer support, and more.
Duties Of A Product Manager
The role of a product manager is a holistic one spanning the entire product lifecycle. A PM needs to have a solid understanding of the customer needs, market scenario, and, of course, the product itself.
The responsibilities of a product manager can be briefly outlined as follows:
- Identify user needs by conducting effective user research and working to gain insights to help shape the product.
- Craft a long-term vision and strategy for the product.
- Work with the product team to form a product roadmap.
- Research and identify product features to build.
- Deliver a product that creates a great user experience
- Maintain swift communication between the product development team, partners, and stakeholders regarding product strategy and development.
Involvement Of Product Managers With Stakeholders
A product manager takes on a multidisciplinary role and has a strategic focus on the product development process. Their role involves them with customers, the development team, and internal and external stakeholders.
This wide involvement also means that the duties of a product manager encompass the entire product lifecycle. On the customer end, they engage with users to understand their needs and deliver insights to the development team to create a cohesive product roadmap. They also communicate with internal stakeholders to create a strategy that aligns with company needs and values.
Required Skills For Product Managers
The dynamic role of a product manager requires quite a range of skills to be successful.
Excellent Communication Skills
Because of a role that involves communicating with a lot of people, be it team members or customers, a product manager must have impeccable communication skills. Managing a team throughout the product life cycle requires efficient communication all around. Besides, communicating with clients clearly about their goals and expectations regarding the product is also essential. A product manager must be able to relay their message in the form of speaking or writing which straightforwardly conveys their objectives and priorities.
Business Knowledge and Acumen
Although you don’t necessarily need a business or finance degree to be a product manager, you need to have a basic knowledge of business analytics and finance. You need to understand business functions like handling profits, budgeting, managing cash-flow, a P&L statement, along with functions of product development. Having basic business knowledge helps a product manager understand the holistic picture of how the product development process fits into the whole organization.
As the former LinkedIn Product VP Deep Nishar said: “A great product manager has the brain of an engineer, the heart of a designer, and the speech of a diplomat.”
Having a strong understanding of the product development process, along with the technical aspects of it, makes the task much easier for a product manager. They can communicate better with the development team, and it is easier to plan more efficient product features.
Prioritizing is an essential skill to have for product managers to move a product smoothly through its lifecycle. A product manager must be able to prioritize sequences of goals and deadlines while making sure that all the project requirements are met on time. It is critical for the product development team that they always work on the most important project at any given time.
According to the Senior Product Manager of UberEats, Ethan Hollinshead, having a deep backlog of well-prioritized projects is key to operating an efficient team.
Research and Analysis
Understanding market trends and customer needs involve a lot of research and generating insights. One way of making the product roadmap align with extensive research is by making the process data-driven. Although many product managers tend to favor intuition in this case, data-driven decisions can allow them to adapt to market needs. It also helps them prioritize product features and projects.
The term “Product Owner” originated from Scrum, which is an agile framework for building and sustaining complex products.
The official Scrum Guide defines the role of the product owner as “…responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the development team.”
Product owner’s roles are primarily present in organizations using the agile development approach.
Duties Of A Product Owner
The Product Owner is responsible for backlog refinement or grooming. The role of the product owner requires them to work closely with the development team.
The responsibilities of a product owner include:
- Creating stories based on customer needs and delivering them through the product.
- Attending agile and Scrum meetings to make sure that the development is in alignment with the product roadmap set by the product manager.
- Creating a bridge between the customer and the development team.
- Optimizing and prioritizing the development process to maintain a proper sequence of projects.
- Working with the product manager and providing feedback on the product roadmap for the best results.
Involvement Of Product Owners With Stakeholders
While the role of the product manager involves customer interactions along with other stakeholders, the product owner mainly has to work with the development team. In a general sense, the product manager decides what products to build, and the product owner and the development team build those products.
Required Skills For Product Owners
The Product Owner needs to be equipped with skills to translate a product manager’s vision for a product into actionable tasks. Along with good communication skills like that of product managers, a product owner must also have other skills apart from the technical ones, such as storytelling, problem-solving, and more.
Product owners need to create a great user experience for the customers through a story. They are responsible for relaying user stories into actual products. Product owners need to have great storytelling skills to connect with their customers without actually facing them. Not only that, they also have to make sure that the customer can engage with the story that the product is aimed to deliver.
Acting As A Bridge Between The Team And Stakeholders
The product owner is responsible for the product backlog. It is also their responsibility to act as a bridge between the product development team and the stakeholders. The product owner needs to facilitate collaboration between the development team and the parties that have a say in the process and outcome. This efficient communication helps keep the product aligned with the one envisioned by the stakeholders.
In a process as dynamic as product development, the team is likely to face a range of issues. These can range from technical to political. In case of conflicts within the development team or with any other parties, the product owner needs to act swiftly to resolve any issues raised by either party. The goal of the product owner is to keep the product moving forward and deal with any issues or problems that hinder or halt the progress.
Flexibility And Agility
Sticking to certain ideas and steps in the process of product development without keeping any room for changes is a bad practice in product development. A product owner should be open to new ideas and initiatives and consider them carefully to get the best results. This facilitates a discussion with the team regarding different ideas and possible risks. Besides, in a fast-changing market, being flexible in the product development process helps to make products that are relevant to the market where it is released.
A product owner is essentially a developer, too. It is a mistake to believe that every role is specific and distinct in Scrum. The focus of a product owner should be on the outcome, not on delineating roles. Product owners are not only team leaders but also a crucial part of the team. Their job should not be limited to the product backlog and user stories; it should be whatever it takes to achieve the desired results. The value of the product depends on the entire team. So, a product owner must have the required technical skills to be a meaningful part of the team.
Final Verdict: Do You Need A Product Manager Or A Product Owner?
Once you have understood the difference and similarities between a Product Manager and a Product Owner, one question remains. Do you need a product manager or a product owner? Or do you need both?
To make a decision that suits the organization, focus on the work itself, not the roles or titles. You need to have a clear understanding of the factors that are crucial for your company, which affect how you structure your teams.
Roman Pichler argued that the product owner is essentially a product management role. In the early stages of an organization, bringing in a product owner can help to quickly establish a role responsible solely for product development. But a long term solution is to create a separate position for a product manager.
Two distinct roles may not be necessary for small or medium-sized companies. The responsibilities of the product development process and allocating resources should be delegated to a product manager. But when it comes to large organizations and agile teams, the process gets more complex and requires more attention to detail. It is easier to work smoothly in this case if a product owner leads the development process, while the product manager talks to users, user personas and business stakeholders, and takes a more holistic role in the overall product management.
As Ritesh Thombre, Digital Product Manager at Fiserv Inc, said: “If the PM isn’t too overwhelmed, both these things can be done by the PM. If he is, and the engineering team needs Product inputs almost daily, that’s the first sign you need to hire a PO as well.”
It is crucial to determine the roles which are most suitable for your business. Whether you choose to assign the roles of product manager and product owner separately or merge the roles into one, it should be aligned with your organization size and requirements.