Product manager vs product owner: What are the differences?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 April 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.

In business, retaining a high level of control and knowledge over a product is an effective strategy for success. The roles of product owner and product manager both include developing and marketing products and the responsibility of product launch and retention. Despite this, there are also some fundamental differences between the two roles that are important to understand. In this article, we discuss the differences between a product manager versus a product owner and how these differences are key to product success.

Product manager vs product owner roles

To understand the difference between a product manager and a product owner, it's important to first understand what each of these roles entails. Although the two roles sound similar, there are clear differences that determine the respective responsibilities of each, although they can support and complement each other's work. Below is an explanation of the typical responsibilities of these roles:

Product owner role

The concept of a product owner originates from the Scrum project management framework. Product owners are responsible for guiding the development of a product, from the initial strategy to market research and customer contacts. As the owner of the product, they handle tasks, list steps and establish requirements for their team and plan the process from start to finish.

As the product owner is in charge of the product throughout its life cycle, they have full accountability for the success or failure of the product. While each team member is responsible for completing their own tasks, the product owner is responsible for the overall strategy and its implementation. For these reasons, product owners benefit from key soft skills like communication, strategic thinking and problem-solving.

Related: What is a product owner? (Plus job responsibilities)

Project manager role

Product managers supervise projects and teams, ensuring the successful launch of a product and a profitable outcome for the company. Product managers know a lot about marketing and excel in communication. Product managers are mostly responsible for what happens to a product after it's released, as marketing products after launch is vital for ensuring that sales continue and a company maintains its market share.

The role of a product manager is also quite flexible and can shift from one person to another. The person responsible for a product in this case can change depending on circumstances, unlike a product owner, who has control over the product throughout its life cycle. Product management is, therefore, more marketing-centric.

Related: Product manager career path (With duties, skills and tips)

Differences between a product manager vs product owner

These two roles have some similarities and overlaps regarding their responsibilities. They also complement each other's work. Here are the key differences between these two positions:

Focus

The focus of the two roles is fundamentally different. A product manager's focus lies in the overall strategy and the further development and promotion of the product. This can involve long-term planning with potentially years of marketing strategy and post-launch activities. Conversely, a product owner is more detail-oriented and emphasises the short- to mid-term effects of their actions on the product's design and its initial success.

In the workplace, this means that a product manager develops long-term plans to ensure that products remain relevant and appealing to consumers. Conversely, the product owner's responsibilities diminish once they've launched the product, and consequently, their concerns are typically short term. Since product development and launch benefits from a singular vision, product owners rarely change, but product managers can change throughout the life cycle of a product, as this can last many years.

Related: Product Manager Interview Questions

Responsibility

The responsibilities of these two individuals also differ, especially regarding when these responsibilities start. A product owner's responsibilities typically start as soon as the brand first develops the idea for a product. The product owner ensures that the organisation can develop and produce a marketable product from these initial plans. This can include consumer feedback on prototypes and limited releases prior to a full release.

The product manager is responsible for ensuring that consumers desire the product. They focus on marketing, public relations and advertising. A product manager receives a completed product from the product owner and then determines how to make sure it's profitable for the business. In simple terms, the product owner is responsible for the product itself, its development and its performance as a product. They're responsible for the post-launch performance of this product and its performance as a marketable good or service.

Related: Product owner responsibilities within a development project

Skills

Product managers and product owners also possess different skill sets. A product owner is typically in charge of the product's design and development and tends to have in-depth knowledge of the product's functionality. For example, the product owner at a software company would likely have a good working knowledge of software design, UX design and programming. This allows them to guide the product's development and understand its potential and limitations. It also allows them to properly oversee the work of those who make the product. This typically involves technical skills related to the nature of the product.

A product manager's skill set is typically closer to that of a marketer, although they typically have more in-depth knowledge of this particular product. This means they benefit from certain soft skills, like communication, creativity, interpersonal skills, collaboration and negotiation. A good understanding of consumer demand is also useful, and some product managers are also capable researchers and analysts.

Related: 20 product manager skills for CVs

Metrics of success

Due to the difference in their responsibilities and skills, these two roles also measure success in different ways. A product owner is responsible for the team that designs and develops the product, and metrics like turnover rates, product quality and consumer complaints are indicative of their performance. How the product performs compared to its competitors is another way of determining the success of the project owner. Another important consideration is the product's design, which can determine how profitable the product is for the company.

A product manager's performance metrics are more closely associated with how the product performs in the market. This can include metrics like conversion rates, sales figures and profits. Product managers are also responsible for post-launch support for the product and customers, so customer service metrics are also useful for determining their success. You can also determine a product manager's performance by looking at that product's share of the market and whether this can increase relative to competitors.

Related: Product manager vs. product marketing manager explained

Frequently asked questions about product managers and product owners

Below are some frequently asked questions about product managers and product owners, with their respective answers:

Do products have both a manager and an owner?

The short answer is yes. Depending on the nature of your company, having both a product manager and a product owner can either be beneficial or redundant. It's important to remember that these are simply titles and that others can perform the work if necessary. Product managers are useful when a company has a range of products, as each product can have a single product manager responsible for its success. If a company focuses on one product, it's not necessary to have a dedicated product manager, as this is the only product the company sells.

A product owner is almost always necessary, but you can give them different titles. The product's designer or project manager might also be the product owner in some cases. Even if a company only makes one product, it's important that it has an individual who's responsible for it and its performance as a functional good or service.

Related: Product management best practices (With soft skills)

Can a product manager and product owner work together?

In most cases, it's better if these two roles work closely together, especially near the product's launch. The product's performance as a marketable item is closely related to its function and design. If the product owner regularly communicates with the product manager, they can both better understand what they're managing and implement effective decisions. This can influence how they market the product and compete with others.

It's important there are clear boundaries between these roles. Like many roles that are closely related, overlaps can occur, and there might be confusion about specific responsibilities. This can be particularly evident during the launch of the product, which is when both individuals have complementary responsibilities. Dividing these responsibilities helps ensure that both product owners and product managers can support each other's work.

Related:

  • What does a product lifecycle manager do? (Salary, skills)

  • What does a head of product do? (Duties and requirements)

  • How To Work Collaboratively

  • How to write a product manager CV in 10 steps (with example)


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