Product Owner vs. Product Manager: Differences, Role, Duties & Why You Need Both

Product Manager

A product manager plans and thinks long-term regarding the product strategy, vision, and market conditions while continually looking for breakthroughs. The practice of product management spans the development of the product, its launch, and its continual improvement. It can also go beyond the product itself, as a product manager can be involved in product marketing, budgeting, long-term strategies, customer support, and more.

Duties Of A Product Manager

The role of a product manager is a holistic one spanning the entire product lifecycle. A PM needs to have a solid understanding of the customer needs, market scenario, and, of course, the product itself.

The responsibilities of a product manager can be briefly outlined as follows:

  • Identify user needs by conducting effective user research and working to gain insights to help shape the product.
  • Craft a long-term vision and strategy for the product.
  • Work with the product team to form a product roadmap.
  • Research and identify product features to build.
  • Deliver a product that creates a great user experience
  • Maintain swift communication between the product development team, partners, and stakeholders regarding product strategy and development.

Involvement Of Product Managers With Stakeholders

A product manager takes on a multidisciplinary role and has a strategic focus on the product development process. Their role involves them with customers, the development team, and internal and external stakeholders.

This wide involvement also means that the duties of a product manager encompass the entire product lifecycle. On the customer end, they engage with users to understand their needs and deliver insights to the development team to create a cohesive product roadmap. They also communicate with internal stakeholders to create a strategy that aligns with company needs and values.

Required Skills For Product Managers

The dynamic role of a product manager requires quite a range of skills to be successful.

Excellent Communication Skills

Because of a role that involves communicating with a lot of people, be it team members or customers, a product manager must have impeccable communication skills. Managing a team throughout the product life cycle requires efficient communication all around. Besides, communicating with clients clearly about their goals and expectations regarding the product is also essential. A product manager must be able to relay their message in the form of speaking or writing which straightforwardly conveys their objectives and priorities.

Business Knowledge and Acumen

Although you don’t necessarily need a business or finance degree to be a product manager, you need to have a basic knowledge of business analytics and finance. You need to understand business functions like handling profits, budgeting, managing cash-flow, a P&L statement, along with functions of product development. Having basic business knowledge helps a product manager understand the holistic picture of how the product development process fits into the whole organization.

Technical Knowledge

Having a strong understanding of the product development process, along with the technical aspects of it, makes the task much easier for a product manager. They can communicate better with the development team, and it is easier to plan more efficient product features.

Prioritization Skills

Prioritizing is an essential skill to have for product managers to move a product smoothly through its lifecycle. A product manager must be able to prioritize sequences of goals and deadlines while making sure that all the project requirements are met on time. It is critical for the product development team that they always work on the most important project at any given time.

Research and Analysis

Understanding market trends and customer needs involve a lot of research and generating insights. One way of making the product roadmap align with extensive research is by making the process data-driven. Although many product managers tend to favor intuition in this case, data-driven decisions can allow them to adapt to market needs. It also helps them prioritize product features and projects.

Product Owner

The term “Product Owner” originated from Scrum, which is an agile framework for building and sustaining complex products.

Duties Of A Product Owner

The Product Owner is responsible for backlog refinement or grooming. The role of the product owner requires them to work closely with the development team.

The responsibilities of a product owner include:

  • Creating stories based on customer needs and delivering them through the product.
  • Attending agile and Scrum meetings to make sure that the development is in alignment with the product roadmap set by the product manager.
  • Creating a bridge between the customer and the development team.
  • Optimizing and prioritizing the development process to maintain a proper sequence of projects.
  • Working with the product manager and providing feedback on the product roadmap for the best results.

Involvement Of Product Owners With Stakeholders

While the role of the product manager involves customer interactions along with other stakeholders, the product owner mainly has to work with the development team. In a general sense, the product manager decides what products to build, and the product owner and the development team build those products.

Required Skills For Product Owners

The Product Owner needs to be equipped with skills to translate a product manager’s vision for a product into actionable tasks. Along with good communication skills like that of product managers, a product owner must also have other skills apart from the technical ones, such as storytelling, problem-solving, and more.

Storytelling

Product owners need to create a great user experience for the customers through a story. They are responsible for relaying user stories into actual products. Product owners need to have great storytelling skills to connect with their customers without actually facing them. Not only that, they also have to make sure that the customer can engage with the story that the product is aimed to deliver.

Acting As A Bridge Between The Team And Stakeholders

The product owner is responsible for the product backlog. It is also their responsibility to act as a bridge between the product development team and the stakeholders. The product owner needs to facilitate collaboration between the development team and the parties that have a say in the process and outcome. This efficient communication helps keep the product aligned with the one envisioned by the stakeholders.

Problem Solving

In a process as dynamic as product development, the team is likely to face a range of issues. These can range from technical to political. In case of conflicts within the development team or with any other parties, the product owner needs to act swiftly to resolve any issues raised by either party. The goal of the product owner is to keep the product moving forward and deal with any issues or problems that hinder or halt the progress.

Flexibility And Agility

Sticking to certain ideas and steps in the process of product development without keeping any room for changes is a bad practice in product development. A product owner should be open to new ideas and initiatives and consider them carefully to get the best results. This facilitates a discussion with the team regarding different ideas and possible risks. Besides, in a fast-changing market, being flexible in the product development process helps to make products that are relevant to the market where it is released.

Product Development

A product owner is essentially a developer, too. It is a mistake to believe that every role is specific and distinct in Scrum. The focus of a product owner should be on the outcome, not on delineating roles. Product owners are not only team leaders but also a crucial part of the team. Their job should not be limited to the product backlog and user stories; it should be whatever it takes to achieve the desired results. The value of the product depends on the entire team. So, a product owner must have the required technical skills to be a meaningful part of the team.

Final Verdict: Do You Need A Product Manager Or A Product Owner?

Once you have understood the difference and similarities between a Product Manager and a Product Owner, one question remains. Do you need a product manager or a product owner? Or do you need both?

To make a decision that suits the organization, focus on the work itself, not the roles or titles. You need to have a clear understanding of the factors that are crucial for your company, which affect how you structure your teams.

Roman Pichler argued that the product owner is essentially a product management role. In the early stages of an organization, bringing in a product owner can help to quickly establish a role responsible solely for product development. But a long term solution is to create a separate position for a product manager.

Two distinct roles may not be necessary for small or medium-sized companies. The responsibilities of the product development process and allocating resources should be delegated to a product manager. But when it comes to large organizations and agile teams, the process gets more complex and requires more attention to detail. It is easier to work smoothly in this case if a product owner leads the development process, while the product manager talks to users, user personas and business stakeholders, and takes a more holistic role in the overall product management.

 

Toufiq Mahmud