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The classic product owner vs product manager debate. Who is in charge of product development? Can there be one without the other? What’s really the difference between these two product management roles and how does each affect the final product?

I am sure the people in these roles would have different answers to these questions when asked, especially if it’s their role being evaluated! Heck, ask everyone else and each team member will probably have a different answer!

There's no black-or-white answer to who must be part of running the product show because these two roles operate differently in different companies and in varying development process structures as well. There are many factors that play into what a product manager or product owner does such as:

  • How well-established a product is
  • how large the business is
  • the structure of the company itself
  • the use of Scrum and Agile practices
  • company vision or philosophy

The purpose of a business is to create products that offer meaning and service to the customer, as well as to investors of the company. This is achieved by making sure product features are optimized and delivered in a quality fashion in a timely manner. This is difficult to do if there is a problem between positions. Figuring out the difference between a product owner and a product manager can help in dividing that rift.

The importance of delivery and optimization means that both the product manager and product owner should have the same goal. And while their end goal should be the same, they carry differing roles within the process of product management to get there. The agile product owner and project management role must work in sync to have a good final product.

Product Manager

The product manager is responsible for guiding a product to success. They lead a cross-functional team that works on a product and improves its features. It is an organizational role that outlines a strategic roadmap for a product or product line.

The PM role can vary slightly from company to company and can, but not necessarily include, analyzing market trends, analyzing market trends, conducting a business analysis by forecasting and gauging profit and loss, as well as managing relations with external stakeholders. They work with the project owner, project manager, and other team members to get to a successful product launch.

The product management role entails analyzing the market and competition while creating a vision for a product that is unique and offers value to consumers that meets their demands. The role covers strategic and tactical works and must offer cross-functional leadership with departments such as the engineering team, marketing, customer service, and sales.

Product managers define the why, when, and what of the specific product that the business is going to build throughout the product development process. They work with the project manager along with other team members and every stakeholder to get to a successful product launch.

Product managers perform market research. They analyze what customers need and want and use prioritization techniques to determine which features or products would meet those demands. They get a team in place and create a roadmap that eventually leads to a successful product launch. 

These are the following steps a product manager will be needed for:

  • Conducting research on how users utilize and enjoy a product. They must gain insight into customer feedback on what works and what does not, and what product features are needed and which are not.
  • Create a strategy based on a long-term vision.
  • Create a roadmap to keep the products team on the same page throughout the process.
  • Conclude what features should be built next on existing products.
  • Begin the process of creating and delivering features that customers not only need but want.
  • Advocate and coordinate the product team, partners, and stakeholders to make sure all are aligned around the strategy the product needs to be going on for success.

The product manager supervises the whole product lifecycle. This involves being in the early steps and ideas that come from customer research to the actual product launch and delivery. They drive the product strategy that is drawn from customer needs and the market. They speak for the end-user and strategically how to get a product from a high-level idea to a concrete product for use.

Related Read: 10 Best Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Software

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The Product Owner

The term product owner can be somewhat misleading. It is not someone that owns the finished product or is the owner of a company that produces a product. It is a term that has come from Scrum, which is a scaled agile framework that builds and supports complex products. 

A Scrum framework, made by a scrum team, defines a product owner as “responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Development Team.” But what does this mean? It means that the product owner generates customer stories that the development team can use. They are the voice of the customer.

The product owner is responsible for the product backlog. This means they are responsible for a list of actionable tasks for new features, any change to existing features, bug fixes, etc. to make sure a team can attain a certain product outcome. It encompasses everything an agile team will work on.

This is no small task as the backlog grooming (refinement) alone is substantial. 

Along with grooming, the role of the product owners includes these responsibilities:

  • Listens to customers and turns their problems and complaints into user stories that create actionable items. They prioritize these stories and then arrange them in a product backlog.
  • Builds and sets production process priorities to make sure the development team knows specifically what thing to focus on in order of importance.
  • The product owner is present at all team meetings with other internal stakeholders such as the scrum master to make sure that the whole development process is following the product roadmap created by the product manager.
  • They are the communication link between the customer and the development team. The product owner is the embodiment of the customer's voice.
  • Gives constructive feedback on the ratified product roadmap. This is a communication link between the product owner and the product manager.

A product manager is with the product from conception to launch. However, the product owner role has a narrower focus when it comes to working with the development team. 

The product manager or product marketing manager studies the customer's wants and needs, whereas the product owner makes sure that product development is following the product roadmap. The product manager decides what is going to be built or adapted and the product owner makes sure the development team does just that.

Related Read: 10 Best Agile Product Management Software For 2021

Product Owner Vs Product Manager Salary

One thing that can come into the equation when deciding who a company needs is average product manager and owner salaries. That can affect annual budgets and profit margins. 

A product owner makes on average $107K USD per year and product managers make an average of around $127K USD. 

Product Owner vs Product Manager                      

The difference between a product owner and a product manager is notable. While there is some overlap, both are defined quite differently.

Product ManagerProduct Owner
This role is all about the big picture for a product with the whole long-term project in mind.A role that looks at the smaller details rather than the big picture. Short-term focus.
The vision of the product. Making product vision into an actionable backlog.
Customer understanding.Advocate for the customer’s needs.
Prioritize features. Highlight needs for the development of a team.
Product roadmap.Backlog, epics, and user stories.

Do We Need Both Roles?

Various factors play into whether a business requires both a product owner and product manager. 

One, the other, or both? 

The real question about what a company needs must come from what the desired product outcome is rather than the titles that are going to be used. Business value is the top priority and then assessing the product management team roles and processes to help achieve those goals comes next.

Structures and processes are often built into a corporate system that becomes unable to adapt due to inflexibility. There needs to be an assessment of who is doing what jobs now, challenges that need to be overcome, the overall decision-making process, and the end goal.

When all these things have been assessed, addressed, and prioritized, then there is a clearer picture of the company’s operations. You’ll see where there are problems, hold-ups, and poor product management. You might realize that you can adapt to the product management structure in a new way.

Product ownership or management can be a blended job that incorporates both along with product marketing etc.

Final Thoughts

So, is it going to be a product owner or product manager running the ship? Who is going to be the captain? It all depends on the type of ship that needs to sail. Finding the right people and the correct skills mean you will have the right captain. 

A product owner and product manager are great assets to have, but the battle for final input must be made according to company needs, customer needs, and priorities. While defining product manager roles are important, you’ll always need to adapt. 

One good way to know what a Product Manager really does is by getting to know one—or 29! Here are 29 Top Product Management Experts To Watch.

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By Ben Aston

Ben Aston is an online media entrepreneur and founder of Black & White Zebra, an indie media company on a mission to help people and organizations succeed.

Ben applies his expertise in design and strategy to enable businesses to deliver innovative products and services that delight customers. Ben is passionate about understanding customer needs through design research, identifying opportunities based on those insights, and empowering designers and technologists to create solutions. He is driven to develop and uncover new opportunities for clients, establishing strong connections with their customers through product solutions that create lasting value.