Differences between a Product Owner vs. Product Manager

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 2 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many people often refer to the roles of product owners and product managers interchangeably. While these two roles may sometimes have similar responsibilities, there are distinct differences between them. Learning more about the differences between these two roles can help you choose the career path that better suits your interests and goals. In this article, we explain the specific responsibilities of a product owner vs. a product manager and how they differ and affect a final product.

Definitions of product owner vs. product manager

Here are the definitions for a product owner vs. product manager:

What is a product owner?

The role of a product owner originates from the scrum project management framework. Scrum's definition of a product owner is that they're responsible for maximising the value of products resulting from the work of the development teams. They come up with actionable tasks and plans to create products. The primary responsibilities of a product owner are:

  • work with important stakeholders for the product

  • attend team coordination meetings

  • organise demos and testing efforts

  • provide necessary resources to develop a product

  • ensure the product complies with relevant regulations

  • ensure the product meets the expectations and needs of consumers

  • manage product backlog

  • ensure the team is following the product roadmap

Related: What Is Agile Project Management? (Plus How to Use It)

What is a product manager?

A product manager is responsible for coming up with new products for a company to sell. This role leads the development, market launch, support and improvement of a company's products. Product managers focus more on the long-term strategy and market trends of products. Some primary responsibilities of a product manager are:

  • conduct market research to understand what consumers want

  • create a product's long-term strategy and vision

  • decide on a product's features

  • design a product roadmap

  • defining the purpose of a product

A project manager oversees a product's life cycle, from conceptualisation to delivery. This role requires understanding target customers' needs, a company's products and overall market trends and developments. It's essential for product managers to identify new ways to meet customer expectations, improve existing products and make the customers' way of life more convenient and efficient.

Related: What Is a Product Manager? (Plus Steps, Skills and FAQs)

Key differences between a product owner and a product manager

A product owner oversees the execution of a product's development, while a product manager comes up with a new product that meets the needs of the market and customers. Here's what each role focuses on:

Key focuses of product owners

Here's what product owners focus on:

  • Tactical and detail-oriented: Product owners are meticulous when it comes to planning the execution of a product's roadmap. It's important for them to oversee every detail of a product to determine what stakeholders are essential for the creation of a product.

  • Product development: After finishing developing a product, product owners rarely participate in managing the product's launch or marketing strategies and move on to the development of other products instead.

  • Work and support internal team: Liaising between a company's stakeholders and product management teams is an important task for a product owner. They also optimise a company's development team and their work to deliver optimal products.

  • Manage backlog. A backlog is the ultimate task list for a product's development. The product owner derives the backlog from the product's roadmap, which a development team uses to understand what their tasks are, so it's essential that the backlog is easily understandable and regularly updated.

Related: What Is a Product Backlog In Scrum? (With How-to Guide)

Key focuses of product managers

Here's what product managers focus on:

  • Strategies: Product managers are responsible for creating new products and developing strategies for their launch, marketing, sales and customer service. They're more involved in the creative and planning process rather than direct execution.

  • Long-term planning: Product managers look for ways to ensure the continued success of products. They focus on analysing market trends and customer feedback to come up with improvements for a company's existing products or to develop better products in the future.

  • Develop product roadmap: Once there's an idea for a product, it's the product manager's responsibility to plan the timeline of a product from development to launch.

  • Interact with customers: Aside from working with the company's internal team, product managers also interact with a company's customers. It's the product manager's responsibility to identify any issues customers may have with a product and relay this information to relevant team members.

Related: What Is a Product Life Cycle? (And How Professionals Use It)

Can you be a product owner and a product manager?

There are professionals that act as both a product owner and a product manager. The different stages of product development affect what role is more important. A product manager is more important during the conceptualisation of a product, while product owners are more important for managing the execution of a product's development. Product managers are commonly also product owners in smaller companies that don't have several concurrent projects.

If there are no new projects to plan for, a product manager can focus on the execution of a product's development. If a company rarely develops new products, they may assign existing product owners to oversee the product creation process rather than hiring a product owner to save costs.

Relevant skills for product owners and product managers

To be an effective and competent product owner or product manager, you can consider developing these skills:

  • Communication: As a product owner or manager, you often work with many professionals and stakeholders involved in a product's development. Clear and concise communication can help ensure accurate and efficient exchange of information to ensure timely completion of tasks and avoid any misunderstandings.

  • Problem-solving: It's important for both roles to identify and understand what problems customers are having and maximise a product's value by coming up with optimal solutions. Strong problem-solving skills can also help you quickly resolve any unexpected issues that occur during a product's development.

  • Risk management: Managing risks is essential for both of these roles to ensure timely delivery of products within defined budgets. Product development often involves several components that have different risks associated with them.

  • Leadership: Product owners and product managers are responsible for the vision, strategy and goals of a product. It's essential for professionals in these roles to have strong leadership skills to guide and motivate their team to complete the necessary tasks to ensure the success of a product.

  • Product knowledge: This involves being knowledgeable about a company's products to better facilitate the development process. It's important to understand the capabilities of existing products when trying to improve them or create new products.

  • Development process: Overseeing a product's lifecycle requires being familiar with the different processes to complete important tasks. Having a basic understanding of what the product is, how to deliver it to customers and how to develop new features is key for product owners and product managers.

  • Interpersonal skills: To manage a cohesive team, product owners and product managers need great interpersonal skills. Interpersonal skills can help you build better relationships to develop a more positive and productive work environment.

  • Business acumen: Having a good understanding of business expertise, company strategy awareness, product finances and pricing and sales support is beneficial to understanding the various aspects of a product's development. Strong business acumen can help you develop more comprehensive strategies and execute them more effectively.

  • Market research: Research skills are essential as they help product managers and owners find problems to be solved, understand customers and analyse market trends. Strong research skills can also help you stay up-to-date with industry trends and best practices.

  • Delegation: These are managerial roles that usually require overseeing a team and delegating tasks. It's essential that you can delegate tasks to team members with the most appropriate skill set.

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