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Product Owner vs. Product Manager: understand the differences

PostsProject management
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

February 17, 2023

Within the world of product development, roles and titles are flung around like confetti, and it’s hard to keep up. Today, we will examine two key functions: Product Owner vs. Product Manager. While these two titles are often used interchangeably, they refer to two distinct jobs requiring different skill sets and responsibilities.

Let’s look at the roles, key differences, and which might be a welcome addition to your team.

Product Owner vs. Product Manager: A quick overview

A Product Owner is typically a Scrum team member responsible for defining and prioritizing the product backlog, a list of features and requirements the development team uses to build a product. The Product Owner is also accountable for aligning the product vision, strategy, and backlog.

On the other hand, a Product Manager is responsible for a product’s overall strategy and vision. This includes conducting market research, defining the target audience, and determining the product’s competitive positioning. A Product Manager is also responsible for developing the product roadmap, which outlines the product’s development, launch timeline, and milestones.

Cacoo product roadmap template
Product roadmap template available in Cacoo

While Product Owners and Product Managers play essential roles in product development, the two positions have some key differences. 

Let’s take a closer look at what makes each role unique.

What a Product Owner does 

A Product Owner is the voice of the customer within a Scrum team.

They ensure the development team builds a product that meets the target audience’s needs. To do this, the Product Owner must deeply understand the customer and their pain points. On top of this, they need to be on their a-game when prioritizing items in the product backlog based on the value they will deliver to the customer.

A core part of the role is ensuring the development team is making progress toward the overall product vision and strategy. This means the Product Owner must be able to communicate the vision and strategy to the development team, as well as make decisions about which features and requirements to include in each Sprint (a Sprint is a fixed period during which a Scrum team works to complete a set of deliverables).

The Product Owner is also responsible for managing the product backlog from an admin perspective, ensuring it’s up-to-date and relevant. Based on feedback from the development team and the customer, they regularly review and update the product backlog (i.e., backlog grooming). The Product Owner must also be able to respond to shifting markets and changing customer needs by adjusting the product backlog accordingly.

Broad areas of responsibility:

  • Optimizing the development process
  • Translating the vision into actionable tasks on the backlog
  • Prioritizing the backlog
  • Bridging the gap between team and client, making clear the customers’ needs

Product owner success metrics:

  • Completed stories
  • Cycle times
  • Other metrics related to the development team

What a Product Manager does 

A Product Manager is responsible for a product’s overall strategy and vision. 

They must deeply understand the market, the target audience, and the competitive landscape. Based on this understanding, the Product Manager must develop a product roadmap that outlines the timeline and milestones for the product’s development and launch.

A Product Manager’s responsibilities include conducting market research to identify customer needs and pain points. This research helps the Product Manager understand the features and requirements most important to the target audience. Based on this information, they’ll develop a product vision that aligns with the target audience’s needs and sets the product apart from its competitors. 

As well as leading discovery research, the Product Manager must also be able to communicate the product vision and strategy to stakeholders and team members. This requires strong communication and leadership skills and the ability to influence and persuade others.

The Product Manager must also be able to make decisions about the product’s development and launch. This includes deciding when to launch the product, determining which features and requirements to have, and making decisions about the product’s marketing and go-to-market strategy.

Broad areas of responsibility:

  • Product vision
  • Customer discovery and user stories
  • Feature prioritization
  • Cross-team communication

Product manager success metrics:

  • Net Promoter Score
  • Conversions
  • Revenue
  • Churn

Do you need a Product Manager AND a Product Owner on your team?

As a business grows, so do the roles and responsibilities of its employees. This is especially true in product development, where these critical positions often emerge and sometimes merge. And while these two roles do have similarities, they each bring something different to the team. Let’s look at their differences in a little more detail.

Product vs. process

The Product Owner is responsible for defining and prioritizing the features and requirements of a product. This person is the voice of the customer and represents their needs and wants in the development process. The Product Owner is a vital member of the Agile development team and plays a crucial role in ensuring the product meets the needs of its intended users.

The Product Manager, however, is responsible for a product’s strategy, roadmap, and success. This person is the CEO of the product and oversees every aspect of its development, from market research, user stories, and competitive analysis, to pricing and distribution.

Cacoo user story map template
User story map template available in Cacoo

The voice of the customer vs. the voice of the team

One key difference between the two roles is their focus. The Product Owner ensures the product meets the customer’s needs, while the Product Manager ensures the product is profitable and sustainable for the business. It’s not that they’re working against each other; they just have different success metrics. Both ultimately want the project to be profitable for the business.

Big picture vs. small picture

Another difference is the scope of their responsibilities. The Product Owner focuses on the details of a single product, while the Product Manager has a broader view and is responsible for the strategy and success of multiple products. The Product Manager is also responsible for determining which products the company should invest in and ensuring these products align with the overall strategy and goals of the organization.

Team-focused vs. organization-focused

The Product Owner works closely with the development team to prioritize features, plan Sprints, and make decisions about the product backlog. 

The Product Manager, on the other hand, is responsible for ensuring that the product aligns with the overall strategy and goals of the organization. This person works closely with other departments, such as marketing and sales, to ensure that the product is positioned correctly in the market and that the right message is communicated to customers. The Product Manager also plays a crucial role in determining the pricing and distribution of the product and ensuring that it is profitable for the business.

Can one person do both roles?

In smaller organizations, it is not uncommon for one person to wear both the Product Owner and Product Manager hat. However, as the organization grows and the number of products increases, separating these two roles and assigning them to different individuals is necessary. This allows the Product Owner to focus on delivering value to the customer and the Product Manager to focus on delivering value to the business — two complementary goals but very different in focus. 

Final thoughts 

The Product Manager and Product Owner roles require a deep understanding of the market and the customer and the ability to translate the client’s vision into a product that hits the brief. But they’re both jobs with a lot of responsibility, plus goals that, while not contradictory, are very different in outlook — which is why they’re best kept separate, especially as your business grows.

Whether you’re a Product Owner, manager, developer, or designer, Cacoo can help you quickly create professional product roadmaps, user stories, personas, and more!



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