Understanding the differences between a product owner and a product manager is crucial. Knowing their key distinctions will help you hire the right people — and give them the tools to succeed in their roles.
These two job titles may sound similar, but they have important distinctions that affect their daily tasks and overarching goals.
The main difference is that a product owner is focused on creating and refining the product. In contrast, the product manager works to build the business around the product by assessing the market and customers.
A product owner is not the same as a manager. In small businesses or startups, the same person may fill both roles. But as your company grows, you’ll be better organized by differentiating these duties and allowing each professional to lean into their strengths.
Let’s clear up any confusion regarding these two roles in your company, identifying what they specialize in and how they interact. Here’s a look at a product owner vs. product manager so you can properly position your workforce to create a successful product.
Product Manager Focus
What is the primary responsibility of a product manager? The product manager role is at the helm of your product’s strategic development. This team member ensures the product’s function aligns with its positioning on the market and the promises it makes to consumers. They carry the goal of cultivating a thriving product by identifying growth opportunities and meeting customers’ needs.
Some key duties of a product manager include:
Determining target customer demographics and identifying their needs, interests, and preferences
Assessing market trends, opportunities, and threats such as competitors and supply chain issues
Communicating between clients and product developers, monitoring customer feedback and external input
Projecting budget needs and tracking product performance on the market, especially regarding revenue and reviews
Upholding the product’s vision, purpose, and long-term objectives across all departments
Another responsibility of the product manager is to compile this data and communicate it to the technical development staff to create clear, actionable recommendations for changes. Excellent communication skills are essential in this role.
The product manager ensures you’re not making your product in a vacuum. They’re focused on prioritizing the product’s real-world impact on consumers and advocating for the overarching product strategy. They must inform the development team to adapt to industry factors and customer influences.
Product Owner Focus
What is the primary responsibility of the product owner? The product owner handles the technical development of the product. They distill the product manager’s input into the precise, specific tasks that will result in functional or aesthetic improvements to the product.
Some duties of a product owner include:
Communicating with the product manager to attain a clear understanding of the changes needed
Demonstrating product changes to the product manager and other professionals as they’re launched
Leading product demos within the company to ensure all teams have a sufficient understanding of its functionality
Ensuring the product functions as it should, providing a satisfying user experience
Sometimes the product owner makes the alterations to the product directly. In larger companies, they will oversee the product backlog of change requests and dispense those to the product development team.
You’re more likely to need a product owner if your company leans toward agile product management, gradually rolling out updates in increments rather than launching a finished product all at once.
For example, software companies often use an agile framework to evolve their programs over time.
Comparing Product Manager & Product Owner
Simply put, the product owner guides the product’s functional refinement, while the product manager leads the product’s holistic cultivation from a strategic business standpoint in the market environment.
Here’s a simple look at the different roles of a product manager vs. a product owner.
Is a scrum master the same as a product manager? No, they are not. Although both professionals prioritize the success of your product, they facilitate that success differently.
The product manager tracks external factors like the market and customer base. Meanwhile, the scrum master ensures the internal processes of the product’s development facilitate its ongoing improvement. The latter formulates the approach and organizes the distribution of tasks to different teams.
The scrum team leader also differs from the product owner, who specifically oversees the tactical and technical work on the product.
In other words…
The product manager determines what needs to be done,
the scrum master decides how it should be done, and
the product owner ensures it gets done.
While some aspects of these jobs may overlap at times — especially in smaller companies — each has a distinct focus.
How the Two Roles Work Together
The product owner and product manager have different jobs but should work in tandem to create a great product.
The product manager must clearly promote the vision. The product owner is constantly optimizing the product to align with that vision.
The role of a product owner is to ensure the product meets the operational and business expectations set by the product manager.
There must be synergy among these roles in the new product development process or in refining an existing product to increase its business value. Otherwise, you’ll have a massive disconnect between patrons and products — which is disastrous for your business.
Who has more authority: the product owner or the product manager? In most companies, the product manager has a higher level of influence than the product owner. That’s because the product manager directs the long-term strategy to turn a quality product into something with business value.
That’s why a product manager tends to rank higher than a product owner in the chain of command.
This larger responsibility for guiding product success is also why product managers typically earn more money. Their goals are closely tied to conversions and revenue because of their outcome-oriented perspective.
However, both the product owner and product manager are equally important because both perform vital tasks that cultivate a high-quality, relevant product for the people who need it.
Does your company need both a product owner and a product manager?
That answer is different for every organization, as it depends on your business’s industry, your budget, the growth phase you’re currently in, and your specific product.
Both roles are important, but it’s not the titles that matter — it’s the contributions they make to improve the value of the products you sell. A valuable product can only go as far as the talent you employ and how effectively you’ve equipped your staff.
Whether you have a product management team or a single product manager, someone on your staff needs to guide the journey. It’s crucial that your company hires a product leader with product management skills to carry this torch. Someone must be listening to the voice of the customer, monitoring the market, and enacting changes to your product accordingly.
It’s up to you to decide which product people you hire, what their job titles are, and how you distribute tasks among your product team.
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