Product Owner vs Product Manager: Key Differences in Responsibilities

Product Management
November 18, 2022
5 mins read
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The debate of product owner vs product manager is one that has taken hours from agile product teams in the pursuit of building an efficient team structure. Just like the project manager vs product manager discussion, this is also a complicated one with multiple layers.

Although there is some overlap in the responsibilities of both, it is necessary to understand the roles and skillsets of both because the end goal remains the same: creating a product that your customers love

In this article, let’s try to settle the discussion of product owner vs manager by highlighting the differences between their responsibilities so that you can make the right decision about your organizational needs.

Product Manager – definition and responsibilities

Product Manager

A Product Manager (PM) strategically guides the product development process throughout the entire product lifecycle — from identifying the target audience to delivering the product or features thereof.

The responsibilities of a product manager depend on the structure of an organization and the needs of the moment. The general responsibilities are:

  1. Communicating with the customers and understanding their pain points and expectations
  2. Creating a strategic product roadmap based on the product’s vision and sharing it with the product owner and the stakeholders
  3. Using an appropriate prioritization technique to determine which features are to be created
  4. Aligning the actions of each team member with the product vision during the production phase while keeping the stakeholders in the loop
  5. Delivering the features through timely releases and keeping an eye on the analytics to ensure their usability and desirability
  6. Collecting actionable feedback from the customers post delivery and determining the next steps in the product development lifecycle

It is evident from the above points that the responsibilities of a product manager require them to be a jack of all trades. The following skills make a product manager perform the above responsibilities effectively:

  1. Communication: Between various teams and stakeholders, through every channel, and the product roadmap.
  2. Organization: Aligning every action and building an adaptive workflow that helps achieve the product vision.
  3. Prioritization: Making sure the crucial features are worked on first to solve the pressing problems of the customers first.
  4. Empathy: Apart from understanding the customers, PMs should help the team members overcome various challenges while building the product.

Due to this breadth of skills and responsibilities, PMs are sometimes referred to as ‘mini-CEOs’.

On a typical workday, a product manager communicates with the team members, customers, and stakeholders and makes data-backed decisions to ensure alignment with the organization's vision while documenting the progress.

Let’s take a look at what product owners have on their plates.

Product Owner – definition and responsibilities

Product Owner

The origin of the role of ‘Product Owner’ goes back to the Scrum framework. Scrum is a framework that equips Scrum Teams to convert a complex problem into a product backlog which is to be completed within a sprint. Then, the team and the stakeholders examine the impact of the work done in that sprint, and the cycle repeats.

The responsibility of the Product Owner is to maximize the efforts of the Scrum Team by equipping them with the right tools and workflow. However, the method of execution of these responsibilities depends on the organization.

One of the major areas of focus of the product owner is effective backlog management which is carried out by:

  1. Understanding and relaying the goals of the product to the developers
  2. Creating the backlogs for each member of the Scrum team
  3. Making modifications to the product backlog
  4. Ensuring that the team understands their objectives for the sprint

Apart from the above, product owners are also responsible for:

  1. Creating user stories based on the pain points and expectations of the customers
  2. Prioritizing the user stories and production processes to provide clarity to the development team on the next steps
  3. Ensures that the efforts of the scrum team are aligned with the roadmap through agile meetings with the stakeholders and the product manager

In a typical workday, product owners attend standup meetings, ensure that the dev team’s roadblocks are removed, manage the product backlog, review the progress, update the same to the product manager and make the necessary modifications to the backlog for the remainder of the sprint. 

Now that you have a solid idea about the definition and responsibilities of both in the product owner vs product manager discussion, let’s outline their key differences.

Product Manager vs Product Owner: key differences

Based on the level of focus and responsibilities, we have collated the differences between product manager vs owner in the following table.

Product Manager vs Product Owner

Do you need both?

Often, various organizations get confused about which of the above two is suited best for their requirements. This is an important decision, especially for growing businesses with financial restrictions.

In these scenarios, a question appears, “Can a product manager work as a product owner and vice versa?”

The short answer is yes. Produx Labs’ CEO Melissa Perri puts it, “Product owner is a role you play on a Scrum team. Product manager is the job.”

In other words, one person can wear both hats. They can guide the overall product vision while helping the Scrum team maximize their efforts during a sprint.

However, you should focus more on the desired outcomes based on the structure of your organization and its goals rather than getting fixated on job titles. The true mark of an agile team is to adapt according to the new requirements and a competitive product management team does just that.

Rosemary Kind of Mind the Product explains, “Titles are not as important as understanding the outcomes that you would like to achieve, and the weaknesses in your current structure and process.”

Closing thoughts

Product managers guide the direction of the product development with respect to the organization’s mission and vision and product owners are responsible for ensuring the smooth operation during the development process.

Although both roles are fundamentally different, it is not uncommon for one person to take care of both sets of responsibilities, especially in a small organization. However, businesses should focus on their needs and outcomes rather than getting fixated on the titles.

Either way, if the product owner vs product manager debate told us anything, it is that both of those roles are necessary to build a product that is loved by the customers. Hence it is crucial for businesses to have the right tools that equip product managers and owners to deliver the same.

Zeda.io is a super app for product teams that helps product managers and owners to track relevant metrics and communicate with team members to ensure the end goal of delivering a desirable product is achieved — as we mentioned at the beginning of this post.

FAQs

  1. What is the difference between a product manager vs a product owner?

A product manager works on a higher strategic level of product development whereas a product owner focuses on the daily tactical operations of the product development team. 

  1. Does the product owner report to the product manager?

Yes. Product owners create product backlogs for each member of the product team during a sprint based on the roadmap created by the product manager. The product owner reports to the product manager after each sprint so that the latter can make relevant decisions for further phases of product development.

  1. Can a product owner be a manager?

Yes. Both sets of responsibilities for each title are different but crucial for the development of the right product. In many growing organizations both roles are sometimes played by one professional.

  1. What's the difference between PO and PM?

POs work on a tactical level where they manage the daily operations of the development team through the product backlog. PMs are responsible for giving direction to the product on a strategic level by collaborating with the stakeholders and product team through the roadmap.

Jacob Koshy
Product Marketer at Zeda.io
A marketer in love with SaaS products. When away from work, I'm either spending time with my cats or adding miles on my motorcycle.
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