Difference between Product Owner and Product Manager

Every product has its value. Managing a product is not the same as owning it. In any company or organization, the main aim is to provide a product that is according to the needs and demands of the customers. There are numerous online learning resources that give hindsight on how a product should be. They are exchange value, utility benefits, consumer satisfaction, and threshold qualities and attributes. These are the basic characteristics of a product. Both the product manager and the product owner are responsible for the proper delivery of the products, yet their roles are different. Though, the lines between the role of product manager and product owner have always been blurred and confusing.

In a community discussion that took place earlier this year, Maria Wilson got confused between the roles of product manager and product owner. The discussion began with her question ‘what is the key difference between Product Owner and Product Manager?’ Additionally, she wanted the answer in one sentence. This led to the discoveries of useful facts that have helped us to answer the basic difference.  

      Role of a product manager

Product management

So, let’s see what it is all about.

The very first answer was by Nathan who believed that it’s the organization that defines roles. To him, both product managers and product owners are the same. He said, “Product owner is scrum legacy and I don’t use it because my teams don’t generally run “scrum by the book”.” He has also heard that people say product owner is the name of the role whereas product management is the work that comes with the role. Nathan agrees to this. Though he put special emphasis that it all comes down to the organization you are working on and whether you are using SAFe or similar stuff to see the difference between the roles. His answer was more than a sentence and it created ambiguity.

What is the role of product manager? What is the role of the product owner? They are simple questions, yet the answer seems too complicated for people. It is the organization that is responsible for defining every role but one needs to understand that Product Owner and Product Manager careers are different. The Product Manager is the person who is responsible for making up product strategies and monitoring the product from the beginning to the end. Responsibilities of the Product Owner mostly include basic communication with the team about any requirements regarding the product and constructing the product processes. You can get an idea of constructing these processes by looking them up in the online learning resources.

Product Owner Vs Product Manager

Product manager vs. Product Owner

Another community member talked about his experience at work. He lives in Sweden and told us that he used to work with a CTO who insisted that all the Product Managers who were working on an internal platform needed to be called Product Owners. The CTO believed that it was for no other reason than legacy. The funny part of this was that people with product manager career preferred that they be called Product Managers and in the end, the company transitioned back to calling the people, Product Managers. Though, when publishing the job listings, the company would name the role as Product Owner as they felt people were more familiar with it.

Another user said that job titles can mean so many different things in different companies. He said, from his experience, that “POs are handed requirements and informed of the roadmap, PMs define the direction and therefore the roadmap.” He believed that the role of the PO as part of Scrum is only one part of the role of product manager

Carlos, a community member, answered this question by saying that the meaning of PO is that you are a PM who is working in Scrum. He believed that the confusion between the two roles came from SAFe where both PO and PMs are working together. SAFe does not explain the product manager career differently from the product owner career.

Scrum has been mentioned by many users. It is only imperative that we know what this scrum means. Online learning resources explain scrum accurately. A scrum is a methodology that is useful for delivering products productively and creatively. Scrum stands for Systematic Customer Resolution Unraveling Meeting. It is seen that in many scrum teams, product managers work to act as product owners. Hence, the confusion between the two terms is very obvious. Donovan, another community member, believes the same. He also added that PM is the job title. Further, the user believed that SAFe “borrows” the name Product Owner to make it a different role which is just junior PM in reality.     

Scrum Values

SCRUM Values

There was another definitive answer based on the fact that the role of a product manager is to discover what the users need, prioritize what to build next, and rally the team around a product roadmap. It is also said that a product owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product by creating and managing the product backlog. This product owner is said to create user stories for the development team and communicates the voice of the customer in the SCRUM process.

While SAFe has been used many times and often recommended by a few, one community user described it as horrible and said that she’d argue that they should replace the word Product with Project if using SAFe. SAFe is a Scaled Agile Framework that aims to guide any organization regarding the scaling of lean and agile practices. 

The final answer for this community discussion was the one that talked about making a distinction between ‘legacy’ companies that were not originally tech/software companies and tech/software first companies. The user said that these legacy companies have realized that tech/software/digital products have become so important, and slowly but surely adopted SCRUM as a way to become more ‘agile’ and avoid/solve the problems that come with traditional waterfall development. She, then mentioned, that there are other tech companies for whom digital product development (and therefore ‘product management’) is more second nature. These companies approach product management as more than just ‘doing SCRUM’, and tend to stay away from frameworks like SAFe. 

In the end, I would like to believe that the terms are dictated by an organization. The idea behind the discussion was not ‘product owner vs product manager’. Rather it was about finding the difference between the two. Numerous online learning resources will help you to understand the difference. A Product Manager can be a Product Owner in one company while they can be two different designations in another. A product manager career is offered by many companies. Look closely as they may be referring to the role of a product owner. It is important to understand that the responsibilities that fall under both roles are entirely different. While SAFe and SCRUM are good options to analyze and differentiate between the terms; they are not conclusive.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is SAFe?

SAFe is a Scaled Agile Framework that has workflow patterns that guide the enterprises in scaling lean and agile practices. It helps in planning and managing workflow.

  • What are the Scrum values?

The five Scrum values are commitment, courage, focus, openness, and respect.

  • What is the key difference between a PO and a PM?

A product manager is responsible for supervising a project and ensuring that it gets completed within a timeframe. A product owner assists the product development team by arranging product backlogs and creating new user stories. 

Interested in learning more about Product Management? Join community discussions.

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