Product Owner vs Product Manager: what’s the difference?


Searching Google for the term “product owner vs product manager” raises the following related questions:

Google search results for “product owner vs. product manager “(Source)

This quick research tells us that companies have a lot of questions about product owners and product managers, two of the most important Agile project management roles for a product team, also known as the Agile team, d scrum team or team.

The bad news is that many small business teams deal with these issues by simply ignoring them. There is a perception that Agile teams have more important things to do, such as attending Sprint planning meetings, which overshadows creating a consistent corporate culture with Agile values.

This can have dire consequences.

Small and Medium Business (SME) teams with poorly defined Agile roles will not have the right people in decision-making positions. This will lead to team accountability issues, poor project quality, and costly delays.

Instead, SMBs looking to build successful Agile teams should start by clearly defining Agile roles, in this case, that of Product Owner and Product Manager.

In this report, we’ll explore the differences between roles and help you understand when your small business should use them.

Product Owner vs Product Manager: Similarities and Differences

The differences between Product Owners and Product Managers can be summarized as follows:

  • Product Owners are part of a team. They are responsible for ensuring that the team delivers high quality products to end users, within the agreed time-to-market.
  • Product managers are in direct contact with customers. This role is responsible for doing market research, understanding customer requirements and creating the product vision for the organization.

However, roles overlap when it comes to understanding their responsibilities.

  • Product owners need to understand customer requirements. Their main responsibility is to understand and present the key customer requirements to the team in the form of a priority list of product backlog items. They also coordinate with the Product Manager to write the user story, collect customer feedback, and participate in product demos.
  • Product managers need to engage with the team. They regularly participate in Scrum meetings to outline Models and solutions with the team. This is because they need to define the long-term vision for the product and work closely with the team to prioritize the activities that help them achieve that vision.

Now let’s take a look at the differences in more detail. This graphic from Gartner’s “How to Fulfill the Product Owner Role” (full content available to customers) breaks down the differences based on key factors.

Product owner
Product manager
Product vision Acts as the voice of the customer for the product vision. Acts as the custodian of the product vision on behalf of commercial sponsors.
Strategy Responsible for iteration goals and customer value creation. Is responsible for strategic roadmaps and business results.
Act on returns Ensures that the voice of the customer shapes key decisions in the organization. Adjust product strategy and vision based on customer feedback.
Communication Engages with the customer, the team and the entire organization to show the continued value and success of the product. Engage with key stakeholders or facilitate conversation with the product owner and the team.
Risk Maintains a short to medium term focus on the immediate sprint and the exit. Maintains a long-term focus on continuing to support product and value chain capabilities.
Terms & Conditions is responsible for defining epics and stories and their criteria for success. Is responsible for setting high level epics and MVP.

Know when to use a Product Owner or Product Manager

There are several factors that determine whether your business needs product managers, product owners, or both. For example, companies practicing Scrum generally do not have a product manager because the Scrum guide makes no mention of such a role.

Product management expert Roman Pichler explains this by saying that product managers were considered antithetical to Agile when the Scrum Guide was published in the 1990s.

Why? Because at the time, product managers were responsible for creating the 1000 pages contract requirements documents and detailed project plans. But Agile practitioners now consider these processes inefficient.

Either way, Agile has come a long way and small businesses follow other frameworks besides Scrum. Many companies today have created a strategic distinction between product managers and product owners:

  • Product owners help the development team create the product. Product Owners are more or less by default in Agile project management. You need a product owner, even if you only have one development team working on short-term projects and whether or not you have a product manager.
  • Product managers discover the products to be created. You need product managers in growing companies where multiple teams (DevOps, UI / UX, etc.) build the product collaboratively. Gartner notes in its report “Going from project to products requires a product manager” (content available to customers) that a project manager or a Scrum Product Owner is not the right person to fill this role.

Here is a table of recommendations to help you understand the need for both of these roles in your small business:

You need a product owner if: You need a product manager if:

• You have a small development team, made up of less than 20 people.

• The development team has a lot of questions regarding the product.

• You encounter project monitoring and reporting problems.

• You are a growing company with a large team and several products.

• You receive many complaints from customers regarding the product.

• Internal stakeholders are not satisfied with the quality of the product.


What skills are needed for a product owner versus a product manager?

Let’s talk more specifically about the skills, according to Gartner, needed for each role:

Skills of the Product Owner:

(full content available to Gartner customers)

  • Personal skills. The person in the role of product owner should be able to build trust between teams, from customers to engineering teams and senior management.
  • communication skills. The Product Owner must communicate transparently and consistently with the various stakeholders of the company.
  • Collaborative skills. The product owner must balance the needs of the customer with the broader needs of the organization and be able to collaborate with the product managers to achieve the goals.
  • Design thinking. The product owner should use hypothesis-based development to drive innovation.
  • Empathy with customers. The product owner must anticipate customer needs and translate them into new product features.

Product manager skills:

(full content available to Gartner customers)

  • Research experience. A product manager must understand the needs of the market and the preferences of customers.
  • Leadership skills. A product manager should define the long-term vision, or product roadmap, as well as define and prioritize results to show success.
  • Presentation skills. A product manager must then sell this vision of the product roadmap to the entire organization.
  • Technical knowledge. A product manager should work with developers and engineering teams to turn vision into product and add functionality that helps achieve goals.
  • Collaborative skills. The product manager needs to work across the organization with stakeholders and other teams to get results.

As you can see, there is certainly an overlap between the two roles, but there are key differences that make each role unique.

Define roles today so you don’t lose productivity

It is clear that most small businesses need a product owner. On the other hand, product managers are more needed for growing companies that add more products.

Determining the right Agile roles for your business is crucial. As your team clarifies their roles and responsibilities, they can collaborate better and make decisions faster. These are the essential traits of successful Agile teams.

Once you’ve determined the roles you need, empower your team by streamlining inefficient processes and using the right tools. For example, establish a project stakeholder management strategy to help product managers engage and manage stakeholder expectations more effectively.

Likewise, give product owners the right Agile project management tools that will help them plan sprints and track team goals.

To better understand which Agile solution, such as a Scrum software or a Kanban tool, is ideal for your business, make an appointment today for a free consultation without obligation with a software advisor.

Finally, here’s a list of reports we’ve created to help small businesses like yours manage Agile projects more effectively:

About Byron G. Fazio

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