There is a lot of confusion when it comes to Product Owners and Product Managers. Who is responsible for what and what are the major differences between these two roles?
Unfortunately, it is a very common mistake for these two phrases to be used interchangeably. Yes, they are both related to product development, but at different stages of the process. Additionally, both jobs require various soft skills and competencies, which further differentiates them.
In order to resolve the ongoing misunderstanding, we decided to write an article with a comprehensive explanation of these two roles, as well as a discussion about the main differences between them. Shall we start?
Product Owner vs Product Manager – quick breakdown
In both of these roles, the employee must possess different sets of skills and be responsible for different tasks. In a nutshell:
• Product owners use more tactics on a daily basis. They devise workable tasks in accordance with the strategy while keeping an eye on the execution of them. This position is mostly offered in agile organizations.
• Product managers are responsible for the strategy. They are the visionaries who plan the business's goals and objectives, as well as forecast the market's future position. Here their main task is the strategy.
Knowing that managers are more strategic while owners are more tactical, we can now explain their duties and characteristics in further detail. There are many more differences to come.
Who are product owners?
Because they are responsible for adjusting a vision to reality, they have to know how to prioritize tasks. Product owners should be resolute and know how to manage people. They develop actionable user stories from customer pain points and problems, prioritize user stories, and arrange them into a product backlog. As such, they have to be creative and be good with words.
Product owners have to be able to connect the dots quickly and communicate customer feedback to the team. They should also provide feedback and make it clear which parts of the process need to be improved and which can stay the same.
Product owners should be team players too. They are advocates for clients’ needs, so they are on #TeamCustomer, but they are on the #DevelopmentTeam at the same time, so they must be able to adjust quickly and switch points of view.
To wrap up quickly, product owners are short- to mid-term focused. They are involved in the optimization process and are advocates for consumers’ needs during the product creation process.
What do product owners do?
The main duty of their tactical minds is to maximize product value, although that is not all. They should take care of the Product Development team’s workflow and plan their tasks in the most effective and efficient ways. They work closely with people responsible for the final shape of products, so they have to be in the loop with regards to progress. One of the main tasks of product owners is to convert the product vision into action.
Furthermore, since they take care of the execution of a vision, they are in touch with stakeholders (including non-consumer ones). As a result, they must comply with aspects of the product creation process like security and finance. The exemplary duties of product owners are:
• Taking part in coordination meetings with the Product Development team,
• Organizing tests and demos,
• Conducting audits and performing analysis to ensure everything goes smoothly and is well organized,
• Being responsible for making decisions,
• Identifying ways to improve the product's business value by reviewing its features at the end of each process.
If we look at Scrum Alliance’s definition of a Product Owner we can see that creating backlogs and user stories are mentioned very often. Therefore, such activities are also the responsibility of product owners.
The most common question we get asked is whether a product owner can oversee more than one product. The answer is “yes”, although there is a “but”. It all depends on the scope and characteristics of the product. In some cases, one product requires more attention and work than others, and if your product owner is handling such a task then piling on more duties isn't a good solution. Remember about quality over quantity. It won't be a good idea to overburden your product owner, since both the quality and realization time will suffer.
Who are product managers?
If you want us to describe a product manager’s job in one sentence, it would be the following. Product managers are responsible for making decisions about what should be done next. So, what is the main focus of product managers?
They have to investigate user needs and gain vital insights through research. Hence, the creation of a long-term vision and strategy for the product is their task. As a result, they need to be clear about the design process and be savvy when devising plans, as well as know how to make efficient use of them. They must also be target-focused, able to make decisions quickly, and know what to do next.
Such people are customers’ voices and strategic leaders. This job position is multidisciplinary, so some called them “mini CEOs”.
What do product managers do?
As we mentioned before, product managers are in charge of creating a vision. They have to plan ahead and create long-term strategies. The responsibilities of this job position are high, and product managers have to take care of the process holistically. To plan a roadmap from start to finish they have to anticipate the best courses of action. They must also identify areas for product owners to focus on. What are product managers' duties? For example:
• Market research
• Product goals
• Market forecasts
• Taking care of the budget
• Positioning the product
A product manager’s tasks are broader and more future-focused than those of product owners. The former have to think about the future, plan the strategy accordingly, arrange it clearly, and convey the right messages, since the latter rely on this information.
Product owners and product managers – comparison
You already know about the duties and responsibilities of both job roles, so let's look at a brief comparison. The following tab contains a short overview of the characteristics of product owners and managers.
Product Owners VS Product Managers
short- or mid-term focus ↔ long-term focus
an in-depth and highly tactful approach is needed ↔ a highly strategic approach required
user stories and backlog ↔ plans and roadmaps
advocating customers’ needs ↔ discovering customer’s needs
executing the vision ↔ creating the vision
optimizing the development process ↔ planning the development process
following the product development process ↔ positioning the product
From this comparison, it is obvious that there are significant differences between the two roles, which demand various skills, abilities, and approaches. Now it should be clear that the terms "product owner" and "product manager" cannot be used interchangeably.
Does your company need both?
Yes, it does. Can one person be both? Yes, but is it necessary? Both roles are very important for the development of a company. Product managers focus on external aspects like the market situation, trends, and customers’ behavioral patterns, etc., while product owners work on monitoring the product development processes and adapting the final design to customers’ needs.
It is important to understand that both roles are part of the foundation of figuring out the market and meeting its requirements. They demand various sets of competencies and each role relies on one another. It would be hard to find a person who could holistically take care of both the external and internal production processes. Moreover, the soft skills required for both jobs are very different, so it would be easier to find two people with one fitting each role.
Why should the two roles be distinguished?
If you have been running a business for a while you will be aware that saving on human resources is not the smartest thing to do. When your workers are exhausted and have too much on their plates, the quality of their work will decline and ultimately the company will lose out. Growth does not follow this path. According to Harvard Business Review, overworked employees can experience depression, disruption, and impaired memories. It can also be harmful to their physical health - work overload may lead to heart attacks or even diabetes. Surely that is not what you want for your team members.
To provide everybody with the right amount of time, tools, and resources, you have to divide roles and duties. You should also focus on people and what their skills and strengths are. As a result, you will be able to assign the right people to the right jobs, and the project will run smoothly, quickly, and efficiently as a result.
The above examples demonstrate that dividing duties is crucial for your employees to work efficiently and with pleasure. To accomplish this, the product development positions should be separated into two. Apart from the fact that it can be hard to find one person who would fit in both roles perfectly, they each require full focus and time in order to be done right.
To sum up
As a recap, we should say that the duties and responsibilities of product owners and product managers differ greatly, so both terms can not be used interchangeably. They are two distinct job positions requiring different skills. Additionally, product owners cannot function without managers, and the work of managers makes no sense without product owners. These roles are complementary, which means they are both required in order to keep things running smoothly in your company.
With the help of this article, we hope that you have gained an understanding of the major differences between the two positions and what their duties are. You should be able to choose the most suitable candidates for both positions by understanding these fundamental aspects.