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How Does A Product Owner vs Product Manager Actually Differ?

Boxing gloves representing product manager vs product owner difference

The scaling SaaS company often have to find out through practice what the difference is between a product owner vs product manager. Both roles are big players within an agile team (or scrum team) of a business.

For a mooning SaaS company with a medium-sized, sturdy ship in the middle of the thunderous ocean, the difference sometimes feels hazy. In the end, they are two separate roles with different goals. This is what we’re tackling in this piece. Hope you’re ready for it!

Certainly some of their responsibilities overlap, which can cause confusion to any scaling SaaS who sees far enough into the future. But there is a general consensus on the definitions for product owner and product manager.

What does a product manager do? The product manager’s role is about the business’s vision for the product, primarily on the market and customer feedback. And what is a product owner? A product owner’s role tends to be more tactical, and they work with the scrum team to make the product manager’s plans a reality. Some companies need both of these roles, so it is important to know what each of them does. Businesses need to know the difference.

What Do They Focus On?

Although they are both parts of the same team and share many of the same goals, the two roles have different focuses. Where a product manager is customer-focused and is more of a “big picture” role, the product manager is more team-focused and concentrates on making sure the tangible goals of the product are met.

A Product Owner’s Focus

The product owner is responsible for getting the best possible value of the product through the development team’s work. The product owner needs to understand the needs of the customers and communicate these requirements to their team. It is also important that they can concentrate their focus on the development of the product.

customer feedback software showing product decisions and customer sentiment

The product owner takes the product manager’s plans and interprets them into actions that can be taken to realize the goals for the product. Then, they work with the development team to achieve those goals.

Here is a list of product owner responsibilities:

  • Attending team organization meetings
  • Planning demonstrations of products
  • Acting as the voice of the customer to the team
  • Define the product backlog and create actionable user stories for the scrum teams
  • Organize and prioritize the work in the backlog
  • Take the completed user stories and make sure the work fulfills the needs

A Product Manager’s Focus

What does a product manager do? At the most basic level, the product manager is responsible for deciding what projects should be worked on next. They organize the visions of the product and map the route to be taken to meet customer requests. Understanding the needs of the customer is important to the role. Customers provide product feedback for PMs, and this helps them make adjustments to the product plan. They manage the entire project. What is product management? It includes handling everything from funding to development to marketing. 

Product owner or product manager seeing labeled customer feedback

Below is a list of product manager responsibilities:

  • Is in charge of the product vision
  • Manages the product roadmap and plans
  • Adjusts strategies and visions according to customer feedback
  • Has a continuous focus on support for the product potential and values
  • Must spend time on strategy and problem discovery
  • Helps foster communication between stakeholders, product owner, and team

Product Manager VS Product Owner: A Side-By-Side Role and Responsibility Comparison

The following table summarizes the differences between a product manager and a product owner.

Product OwnerProduct Manager
Type Of RoleA role within the agile project, Scrum being the most common agile framework).A job title that represents a role directly within an organization.
Overall focusMore detail-oriented.

Short to mid-term focus.
More strategic.

The grand vision of the product.

Long-term focus.
Objective And MissionTaking part in an agile project team and supporting the realization of stakeholders’ requirements into a working product while maximizing its value for the organizationCoordinating and supporting the development, building, testing, marketing, and selling of a single product or product line across divisions, departments, functions, and teams
Areas Of ResponsibilityCustomer discovery.

Cross-team alignment.

Feature prioritization. Optimizing the development process.

Turning the product vision into an actionable backlog.

Advocating for the customers’ needs in front of the development team.
Product vision.Customer discovery.

Cross-team alignment.

Feature prioritization.
OwnsBacklog

Epics

User stories
Product roadmap

MVPs
Some Success MetricsCompleted stories.

Other efficiency metrics related to the performance of the dev team.
NPS (product) Conversions (product)

Revenue (business) Churn (business)
TimelinessA product owner is responsible to maximize the value of the product within a time limit. Upon completion of a project, the product owner moves on to other projects.A product manager is responsible for a product, product line, or service on an ongoing basis, i.e., without as stringent time limitations.
Operational TasksManaging and prioritizing a project’s backlog to maximize value, explaining product requirements and making the backlog and its items transparent, ensuring understanding and supporting the development team, making decisions with respect to product characteristics (may represent the stakeholders), several tasks in meetings typical for agile projects (e.g., Scrum review).Strategic and operational planning of products, market intelligence, development, marketing, supporting or doing sales, and other roles. While product managers across different types of organizations usually share the strategic component of the job, her/his operational involvement may differ, depending on the kind and size of a company.

Know The Requirements: When To Employ a Product Owner And When To Use a Product Manager? 

How can you know whether you need a product owner or a product manager? The guide below can help you decide.

When to hire a product ownerWhen to hire a product manager
The team strategy and staff needs improvement, support, or attention in generalYou need to manage and implement customer feedback
You need a better look into the details of your product developmentYou need a better market outlook and strategy
Small production teamLarge or multiple production teams

What Skills Are Needed For a Product Owner VS Product Manager? 

A product owner needs to be skilled in working within a tight-knit team to make the vision for the product a reality. They must excel at collaboration, and at ensuring that the product’s development is on track. A product manager needs to be skilled in diplomacy and must play the role of an expert on the product to customers.

dashboard showing conversations with customers

Product Owner Skills 

The product owner works closely with the scrum team, which develops the product. Also, they are a key point of contact for QA, UI, and UX staff, as well as the designers. 

Product owners are responsible for explaining the product manager’s vision to these teams. It is their job to correctly interpret the vision laid out by the product manager into actionable tasks. They also must be able to convey to managers and other teams the status and characteristics of every product development.

As such, a product owner is both organized and communicative, being able to track and improve the whole process. Other skills needed for this role are collaboration, team leading, concentrated focus, and the ability to focus on details without losing sight of the whole picture.

Product Manager Skills 

A products manager’s skills tend to be more customer-facing. They must be armed with the knowledge of the product and be skilled in explaining it to customers.

NPS trends showing importance of customer feedback

As well, a product manager must be skilled in strategy, bringing the product to market, and be able to handle the financial budget. 

Other skills a product manager needs are: focusing on long-term goals, planning future developments (project planning), financial planning, market knowledge, and sales support.

It’s not an easy job, but there are resources for learning how product managers can do their jobs better.

The Scrum Framework and How It Is Associated With Product Owners and Product Managers 

The term “product owner” is taken from the scrum framework. This role is a member of the Scrum, or agile, team. Without a Scrum team, this role doesn’t really exist. On the other hand, a product manager can work within the Scrum framework but can exist without it. The term “product manager” was around for decades prior to the Scrum framework. As Melissa Perri points out, the product owner, product manager, and scrum team all work together to achieve the goals of the project.

Defined Roles for Product Owner vs Product Manager

The role of a product manager mainly consists of developing a vision for the product, and they fulfill this role by handling tasks like funding, market research, pricing, and defining customer needs, among others.

The role of a product owner mainly consists of conveying the vision provided by the product manager to the development teams. They fulfill this role by interpreting the vision into actions and tasks and by working closely with the development team to see the project through.

Product Owner Role 

The role of the product owner dates back to the Agile (or Scrum) methodology for project management. Today, they are found within large companies that use this methodology to develop products. 

Product owners manage the development of the products to realize the vision of the product that has been planned. This role is all about the development of the actual product, and they work closely with (or are part of) the production team.

Product Manager Role 

As discussed earlier, a product manager’s focus is on strategy, the vision of the product, envisioning plans for new products, and marketing. This role can be part of the Scrum methodology, although it was around long before.

Product managers tie the production to the market needs and trends. They pay close attention to customer and shareholder feedback.

Can a Product Owner Also Be a Product Manager? 

Yes, a product owner and product manager can be the same person. The roles certainly share many responsibilities and goals. This is why, as Roman Pilcher mentions, it makes sense that for many companies one person fulfills the needs of both roles and uses the scrum product owner as an agile product manager. Sometimes this direction makes the most sense for a company, especially if it is a young or small company.

How does one person manage to be both the product owner and the product manager? A person can manage this by keeping in mind the differences between the roles, when to act as a product owner, and when to act as a product manager. 

One way is to think of the product manager role as the role that is played within the Scrum team. When they are acting as a product manager, they will be working on strategy, marketing, and customer needs, which are tasks done outside of the Scrum team.

Do You Need Both?

Many companies struggle with the decision to hire one or the other, or both. Concerning answering this question, the company must decide on what kinds of outcomes they want, and not necessarily the title of the role. 

Considering the weaknesses of the team and development process is the best way to decide. Things to consider are current challenges, the current decision-making process, which key players are currently playing which roles, and what success will look like for the company.

Product Owner vs Product Manager Summary

The key difference between these two roles is a product manager is more customer-focused and a product owner is more team-focused. A product manager constructs the vision of a product and plans ahead for future ones. A product owner works closely with the Scrum team to take the plans of the product manager from a vision to reality. 

The responsibilities of the product manager include being in charge of the product vision, managing the project roadmap, developing and adjusting strategies, and communication between stakeholders, product owner, and team. 

Some responsibilities of the product owner include working closely with the team, focusing on the details, and developing the product correctly and on time. 

A product owner is part of the Scrum, or Agile, methodology. This role works with the Scrum team to meet goals. In contrast, the product manager term has been around for much longer and can function along with or outside of the Scrum team.

A company can decide whether to hire a product manager or a product owner by determining its weaknesses, goals, and vision of success. In many small companies, the product owner is also the product manager. Each company must determine what is best to meet its needs. If a company is unsure where or how to begin determining what their needs are, they can sign up for a tool like Usersnap to get started.

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Below are the most frequently asked questions about product owners and managers and their answers.

Is the product manager higher in the hierarchy than the product owner?

In a larger company, the product manager may be one level or so higher than the product owner. In a smaller company, often both roles are played by a single person.

Can the product owner be a product manager?

The short answer is yes. The product owner can also function as a product manager, given that the individual is skilled in areas such as long-term envisioning, marketing, and customer needs.

Is the product owner in a management position?

The product owner may not be a management position, but it does take some leadership qualities to fulfill this role.

What is the role of the product owner?

The role of product owner can be simply described as a role that is played within the Scrum team and works with the development team to make sure the product is fulfilling its goals.