Product Owner vs. Product Manager – do they differ and how
Project Management

Product Owner vs. Product Manager: activities, responsibilities and differences

date: 27 October 2020
reading time: 6 min

There is no particular need to convince anyone that the implementation of agile technology yields reasonable results. Within the current reality, agile is simply a standard.

However, that does not mean, that all implementations at all times are conducted successfully. Numerous enterprises, particularly within the SMB sector, seem to neglect the issue that is key for agile work – we are talking about role distribution, with the roles not always being obvious.

For this reason, today we look at the roles of Product Owner and Product Manager – let’s see how they differ and how they both contribute to the overall success of Agile companies.

Understanding the roles: Product Owner vs. Product Manager

Based on the example data provided by Google Trends through the last five years, the popularisation of Agile has not impacted the increase of awareness of the roles of Product Owner and Product Manager. Moreover, the attention regarding the issue is still rising.

Importantly, the queries often appear within a particular context – it seems that a difficulty in drawing full advantage from Agile is the distinction between the function of a Product Manager and a Product Owner.

With this in mind one may also draw a conclusion that the existing implementations in many companies are not sufficient to draw the scopes of competencies regarding both roles, or even that companies do not introduce them at all.

This may simply lead to a situation where an organisation may „demonstrate” the implementation of a trendy Agile methodology but is far from desired outcome.

It is not difficult to imagine the communication chaos and lack of organisation related to the multiplication of competencies and the ongoing process of the Product Manager and Product Owner getting into their ways.

For more on IT projects and why project and product management is so important in preventing them from failing.

Product Manager vs. Product Owner: roles and responsibilities

Therefore, how to explain the differences between both roles in an uncomplicated manner?

To best approach it, let’s look into where should the attention of both the Product Manager and Product Owner be focused.

What are the Product Manager responsibilities?

Product Manager’s role is primarily focused on the relation with centres beyond the organisation. It is the Product Manager who focuses on oversight regarding the market research, as well as on the knowledge of the customer needs.

The PM should primarily learn the assumptions of the customer regarding the product or particular market needs and pass them on within the organisation.

One may say that within this aspect the Product Manager is the source of information about the dynamically changing external conditions and expectations of customers (obviously with particular considerations of changes within these expectations), that are afterwards transferred to the organisation.

What are the Product Owner responsibilities?

However, one should in no way assume that Product Owners and Product Managers are somewhat in opposition, resulting in the Product Owner being forced to communicate the organisation operations externally. Quite the contrary, Product Owners’ task is to ensure the proper cooperation with the project and development team as well as quality assurance.

While, in Agile, the Product Manager acquires external information, Product Owner distributes it in the most possibly optimised way within the organisation, particularly within the employees designated to participate in the development process.

Why is it important to distinguish between a PO and a PM?

It is therefore extremely important to distinguish between a Product Owner and a Product Manager, and to understand the necessity of their cooperation or even cross permeation of information.

One may even be tempted to say that the Project Manager and Project Owner co-create one process – starting with information regarding external factors they meet at the point where the information must reach the members of the organisation.

Read more about Product Management process:

Do you need both a Product Owner and Product Manager in a company?

The aforementioned notions may display a certain hazard – on one side we speak of evading a situation in which competencies are overlapping, while on the other we speak of their mutual overlapping.

It is no mistake – the relation between the Product Owner and the Product Manager, as well as the directions of their communication, is cross based. Product Owner, in order to acquire valuable information from the outside, must know the team and its capabilities.

Similarly, Product Manager must also possess the knowledge on the market situation and the knowledge regarding the customer’s expectations in order to communicate product vision to the project teams efficiently, ensuring the appropriate level of quality of the end product.

Product Owner and Product Manager: collaborating for success

There’s an interesting opinion on this topic shared by Melissa Perri, experienced Product Manager and senior lecturer at Harvard Business School:

“It’s important to have this flexibility in team size as well depending on the stage of your product. If you give a Product Manager a large Scrum team’s backlog to keep filling while you are in discovery mode, they will keep that backlog filled. But they will also be torn between keeping work flowing to the developers and trying to do the work to validate direction. As a result, neither gets done well.

If you want to build products, e.g. software product development, that create value for your businesses and customers, you need good Product Management foundations in your company. If you want a career path for your people, you need to give them this foundation so they can grow into more senior roles. So remind your people they are all Product Managers.

They may be playing the role of a Product Owner on a Scrum team most days, but we still need them to think like a Product Manager and validate that we are building the right things”.

Therefore, these subtle strands of connections and dependencies may be summarised by a statement that the Product Manager is probing the projects in which the organisation should involve itself, and the Product Owner is working with the team to develop them.

Assuming such a perspective, one may speak of healthy, solid and effective relations in compliance with the operational agility in IT.

Treacy and Wiersema Market Positioning Product Leadership
Treacy and Wiersema market positioning product leadership

How Product Owners and Product Managers shape business success?

Product Owners and Product Managers play crucial and complementary roles in shaping business success by driving the development and management of successful products.

Product Owners focus on the detailed execution of features and requirements, ensuring that development teams deliver value in alignment with stakeholder needs. Product Managers focus on the broader strategic vision, market positioning, and overall business success of the product.

Collaborative efforts between these roles create a holistic approach to product development and management, contributing to the achievement of business objectives and customer satisfaction.

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