Difference Between Product Owner & Product Manager

Often, a product owner and a product manager may be a part of a project team. Both positions play an important role in a project, sometimes with a crossover of responsibility. Overall, though, these are two different product roles with unique responsibilities. Not everyone may fully understand these roles and how they tie into a project, so let’s take a closer look at each and identify how they are similar and how they are different.

Read more: Product Manager vs. Project Manager

Product Owner vs Product Manager

What Is a Product Owner?

A product owner is a project’s key stakeholder, who engages all other stakeholders, including users, customers, leadership, marketing, sales, and customer support, and connects them with the agile development team. They are responsible for supporting the development team by specifying requirements and outlining and prioritizing the product backlog to help determine the project’s outcome. Product owners serve as an internal customer expert for both engineering and development teams, answering questions and clarifying requirements throughout the entire project.

What Is a Product Manager?

A product manager is responsible for the development of products for an organization and leads the development and marketing of a product through all stages of its life cycle. They understand and connect business strategy, design knowledge, and customer needs together to develop a product that is achievable, relevant, and valuable. Product managers own the business strategy for a product and get involved in detailing its functional requirements, supporting its development, and managing its launch. Product managers are well-respected professionals, even though they’re among the least understood.

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Product Owner and Product Manager Roles Compared

The terms product owner and product manager are often used interchangeably, which may be because they both include “product” in their titles. There is some overlap to the responsibilities, but mostly, the roles are distinctly different. Product owners translate the product manager’s strategy into actionable tasks and work with cross-functional agile teams to execute those requirements. Product managers are more strategic, with a focus on the product’s long-term strategy, the product vision, market trends, company objectives, and identifying new opportunities. Let’s take a look at both roles and compare the job functions’ similarities and differences.

How Product Owners and Product Managers Are the Same

Both roles guide the product through the development process and work with several of the same teams and people across the organization. In some organizations and instances, a product owner may take on some of the more strategic roles of a product manager, and vice versa, depending on the context and the stage of the product. In this scenario, the product owner might be seen as a type of product manager if they are more tactical and more internal-facing in an effort to keep the product’s progress on track.

How They Are Different

The line between when a product owner’s role ends and the product manager’s role begins, and whether or not these two functions are just two different aspects of the same position is not always clear. With the overlap, it is possible for a single person to perform both functions simultaneously. However, it is important to point out how they are different:

  • A product owner is more tactically focused, while a product manager is more strategically focused.
  • A product owner “owns” the product backlog and works with the development and scrum teams to create the product. A product manager is the expert on the product and the customer, developing the product roadmap and supporting the business through the positioning and marketing of the product for sale.

Tips for Project Managers Working With Product Owners and Product Managers

Project managers work with “how” and “when” questions on a project, while product owners and product managers deal with the “what” and “why” questions. Together, these three roles can be a powerhouse of achievement. Project managers have an opportunity to optimize the working relationship with product owners and product managers. As a project manager, the following is a list of tips to help you best work with product owners and product managers:

  • Act as a single point of contact for the project team, so product owners and product managers can use their time and resources efficiently
  • Collaborate and plan together from the beginning of the project
  • Sum up discussions and make details available immediately following
  • Delegate to-dos and follow up on action items
  • Make sure no task is duplicated and no task is left undone
  • Ensure everyone on the team is informed and on the same page through mediation and communication
  • Proactively manage risks and and head off issues early
  • Manage scope changes promptly so they have minimal impact on progress and budget

Read more: Difference Between Scrum Master & Project Manager

Anne Meick

Anne Meick is an author, copywriter, and digital project management consultant, leading digital teams and projects in highly regulated industries. She is the founder of Writers' Connection and blogs on writing, editing, and book publishing.