Product Owner and Product Manager: What’s the Difference?

Seeking for the right product manager role, many people are confused by the variety of similar deceptive requirements, descriptions and

Vadym Muraviov, Digital marketer, Craft

5 mins read

Seeking for the right product manager role, many people are confused by the variety of similar deceptive requirements, descriptions and expectations from the product owners, they find in various organizations. No wonder, some of them overlap, indeed.  However, it’s rather the inability of the managerial culture to adopt, adjust and reflect the right roles for either a product owner or a product manager that makes things complicated. There is no single standard yet, but let’s sort things out.

Product Manager Role vs. Product Owner Roles

Surprisingly, there are so many seeming product management homonyms that one can hardly keep his head cool: Business Analyst, Product Leader, Product Designer,  Product Engineer, Program Manager, Product Marketer and so on. Unlike this, the term ‘product owner’ has more or less clear definitions and expectations, mostly due to its closeness to agile/scrum practices.

Despite the fact that product owner and product manager roles and responsibilities are as amorphous or blurred as the product management itself, people should have some idea of how to distinguish these two roles for better performance.

Product Owner as Related to Scrum

The historical backdrop of the product ownership is firmly identified with the scrum innovation. In agile or scrum development, the group more often comprises of 5-9 resources or colleagues. All of them work back to back to meet the team members’ commitments. Since the group is attempting to 100% meet their duties, scrum permits the resource that is called ‘Scrum expert’ or ‘Scrum master’ to encourage the day by day or week after week meet-ups and play out the part of a battering ram thumping down any of the obstructs that are the impediments in meeting the common individuals’ responsibilities. Anyway, how the scrum characterizes what responsibilities to do or what issues to settle? This is the thing that product owner does and his or her part is totally characterized by the connections in the scrum group.

Thus, the major responsibility of a product owner as a resource with the market knowledge and ample user will be:

  • identifying the issues to solve
  • elaboration of the problems into users stories (get free user story template)
  • prioritizing them into the backlog
  • constant communication with the team members
  • decision making

Even if it sounds like a product marketing manager responsibilities, indeed, there are still some warnings:

  1. First of all the product owner is characterized totally by his or her connection to the development group he or she is in, and to how they add to the achievement of that group in meeting their duties. There is nothing in the conventional meaning of a product owner that can include partners, stakeholders, technique, client interchanges, advertising, support, or any of the different worries that a product manager must have every day keeping in mind the end goal, to guarantee that the product is seen by the business sector as a profitable answer for the client needs. Product development manager responsibilities are adjusted for that. The product management major is characterized by the relationship to the business sector, while product ownership is characterized by the relationship to the improvement group.
  2. Secondly, there are some inborn strains between the exemplary meanings of a product ownership and a classic PM.  Product owners are more likely to be expected, as noted above,  by their Scrum groups to be accessible to any individual from the group any time needed. Whenever, to answer any inquiry in connection with that group’s present duties. The owner could be the biggest blocker of progress as they are not just people who characterize what anyone can do, they are likewise a definitive referee regardless if the story is “done” or “acknowledged” as done.

Undoubtedly, the role of the product owner is a key in any Agile/Scrum methodology. At the same time, expectations and definitions of this role are even more blurred than the roles of Scrum Master and Scrum Team as the whole. If we speak in metaphors, the Scrum team is a powerful (or not really) car, and how fast it goes may directly depend on the driver’s level of experience, who is the Product Owner.

In real practice, this role can be expressed as an intersection of knowledge and skills from the four PM “worlds:”

Product Manager – the person who knows what business and the users want,

Project Manager – the person who knows how to plan and monitor the implementation of the project,

Business Analyst – a person who knows how to get the requirements from users and how to prepare the requirements to the fast team performance,

The Leader – the person who knows how to direct the overall efforts in the same direction, where to focus and how to motivate the team to achieve the mutual goal.

There are no ideal product owners who have evenly combined all four above mentioned areas. Although it is not a problem. The product owner responsibilities and roles are often considered to be mythical because they are like technical product manager responsibilities or those of a product manager, engineer or someone else. In fact, it does not matter what sphere you come from to the role of the product owner. The most important is how you learn to play the current role.

Paradoxically, the success of the project directly depends on who performs the role of the Product Owner. And here the most interesting question arises: where and how to learn to be the best product owners? There is no single answer. Of course, self-education, learning from colleagues, sharing experience, consulting and so on are extremely important ways to improve your performance as a product owner.

There are no boundaries in self-improvement via the I-net project management community, reading blogs, forums, articles, books and virtual meetups, etc.  At the same time, do not forget to use specialized templates and product management tools related to a better and deeper study of this role.

Welcome with your ideas on product owner vs. product management roles, comments and shares.