Product Owner vs. product manager

Imagine you have just collected the data from customer feedback to identify trends and customer needs and how to meet them. Now you need to communicate these results to the right person. But who is that person? The Product Owner or the product manager? To avoid situations like this, it is important to separate the roles in a project so that people have the right person to talk to. To understand both roles, it is necessary to look at the responsibilities in order to make a distinction.
One person kicks the other away.


Product Owner

In agile projects, and more specifically in Scrum, there is a central role called the Product Owner. The Product Owner represents the client or is the client's representative and acts as a natural, approachable person.
Definition and responsibilities

The main role of the Product Owner is to incorporate the customer's ideas to increase the value of the end product, which in turn drives business success.
The Product Owner is responsible for defining the Product Goal, which incorporates the various visions and perspectives of the customer or the Product Owner. These visions can be both business and technical in nature and form the goal to work towards during development. This results in the creation of all the tasks that are required to create the final product ("Product Backlog"). These tasks are prioritised so that the most important ones are completed first. The description of these tasks must be precise so that everyone in the team understands what needs to be done.
While each task is being worked on, the Product Owner is always available for the team to ask questions. 
When the team has created a usable partial product ("Increment"), it is approved by the Product Owner. Feedback is given in "Sprint Review Meetings", to which the Product Owner decides whether to invite stakeholders.
Important skills and qualities

As Product Owners are largely responsible for the success of the product through their tasks, entrepreneurial thinking and business skills are required. This is particularly important when it comes to prioritising the backlog, as some tasks are initially more important to keep the product profitable. It is also important to have a sense of the changing times, as some sub-products may not be in demand at the moment. When a market is saturated, you have to rethink and stay flexible. 
But communication is also very important because, as already mentioned, the tasks of the Product Backlog have to be defined and communicated in an understandable way. This is only possible if it can be communicated in a meaningful way. Therefore, it is a great advantage if the Product Owner is sociable and communicative.
Importance of collaboration with other teams

As mentioned earlier, the Product Goal and Product Backlog are defined and the Developers work towards them. However, it is important to give the team enough freedom. A healthy balance between freedom and control must be found in order to work well together. If you have been a project manager before, it is particularly difficult to step out of that role. That's why the meetings are so helpful. They bring everyone up to date, offer the chance to give feedback and explain tasks in more detail.

Product manager

Many of the above tasks can also be performed by a product manager. In general, a product manager is responsible for planning, developing and marketing a product, overseeing the entire product lifecycle - from conception to launch and beyond. The specific duties of a product manager are explained in more detail below.
Definition and responsibilities

The main role of a product manager is to plan, strategise and market products successfully, working closely with other departments. The product manager analyses the market to identify trends, meet customer needs and ensure product profitability. Regular analysis helps to identify potential gaps in the market and evaluate the performance of existing products.
It is important that the product manager is involved in the development of new products as well as the maintenance and improvement of existing products. The aim is always to make improvements that will increase the success of the product and ensure the satisfaction of the end customer, i.e., the user or operator. Gathering customer feedback is essential in this process.
During development, the product manager works closely with the development team, running tests and gathering feedback. At the same time, they support marketing and sales to ensure a smooth product launch and commercialisation.
The product manager's role is reflected in their overall responsibility and ability to work effectively with different departments. As a result, they always have an overview of the product's success.
In addition, the product manager's responsibilities may include monitoring the schedule and budget to ensure efficient allocation of resources. This liaison role allows for meaningful coordination and planning of resources.
Key skills and attributes

As product managers have a wide range of responsibilities, they should have a broad knowledge base. In particular, business and product knowledge is required. Only with sufficient prior knowledge can the product be designed and developed correctly. They should also have analytical skills, because they need to understand data analysis to find out how the product works. 
But communication and leadership skills are also needed, because product managers have to work with many teams. On the one hand, communication has to be right to avoid misunderstandings; on the other hand, it is important to be taken seriously as an authority and to convey this in your statements.
Importance of strategic thinking and decision-making

It is particularly important to stress the importance of strategic thinking, as the success of the product depends on comprehensive planning. Trends in the industry must be followed and, if necessary, ideas must be developed in a different direction. This also means developing long-term goals, where challenges may arise that need to be met with appropriate measures. In this way, resources can also be used in a targeted way to minimise waste. Last but not least, it allows us to identify opportunities and respond quickly to market changes in order to stand out from the competition.

Differences between Product Owner and product manager

Good market observation is essential for the Product Owner to be able to prioritise the Product Backlog in a meaningful way. However, this market observation, and thus the consideration of customer needs, is also a central task of the product manager. So how can these two roles be distinguished?
Main differences in the responsibilities and focus of the two roles

The product manager shapes the direction of the product through extensive market research, strategic development and targeted prioritisation. The Product Owner, on the other hand, focuses on the tactical implementation of the defined goals, which is probably the main difference between the two roles. These different approaches, strategic versus tactical, lead to different focuses and approaches to tasks, which in turn explains the different job titles.
The Product Owner is primarily focused on the successful and transparent implementation of the Product Backlog to maximise the value of the product and ensure the efficient work of the developers. Meanwhile, the product manager is dedicated to developing and implementing the product in line with the organisation's overall goals, while carefully overseeing the product management processes.
Potential challenges and conflicts

Depending on the approach taken, the responsibilities of the Product Owner and product manager may overlap, so it is important that clear lines of demarcation are drawn in projects involving both roles, and that everyone knows their responsibilities.
Here is an example to illustrate this: If Scrum is not being used, it is important to understand that the product manager supports the development team with questions, but at the same time gives them enough freedom to unfold and develop a suitable product. On the other hand, if Scrum is used, the Product Owner is the primary contact person for the Developers, not the product manager.
However, this demarcation is not always clear and can be fluid, which sometimes makes implementation difficult. This can have a negative impact on collaboration, as the following example shows:
Suppose a new feature is to be developed for an application. The Product Owner has defined the Product Goal and provided it with elements from the Product Backlog. The main focus is to implement these improvements as quickly as possible and to increase the efficiency of the Developers. The product manager, on the other hand, focuses on strategic aspects such as market analysis and meeting customer needs. It turns out that the end users of the application do not want new features, but rather an optimisation of existing features. These different priorities lead to a conflict that can only be resolved by close cooperation between the Product Owner and the product manager.

Cooperation between Product Owner and product manager

The importance of effective cooperation between the two roles

To stay with the example: To resolve the conflict, both need to sit down and explain the pros and cons. Why is the technical aspect and rapid development more important for one, and the strategic focus and end-user needs more important for the other? A possible solution could be to improve the existing features and only work on the new features after a successful and positive market analysis. This also shows the importance of effective communication and collaboration, as it is not always possible to agree. But with communication and a common goal, namely a successful product, a lot can be achieved.
Strategies for effective communication and collaboration

Separating the two roles is a great advantage for ensuring communication and collaboration. Once the team and the product get too big, it becomes difficult to keep track of everything and manage the many small tasks at the same time. This is why everyone needs to pull together to bring the vision to life. The product manager creates the vision, and the Product Owner passes it on to the Developers for implementation. However, as mentioned earlier, the vision and the product can also be worked on together before being communicated to the rest of the team. This ensures that everyone is committed to the product and wants to make it happen.


It is not easy to separate the Product Owner from the product manager, as many of the tasks merge, or at least sound similar. Therefore, it is important to separate their roles and draw clear boundaries as to who is responsible for what. If the boundaries are not so easy to draw and there is overlap, both need to talk to each other and compromise to ensure the success of the product. The Product Owner can sometimes be the product manager. However, as the team and the product grow too fast, it is important to separate the two roles. That way, the Product Owner can focus on development in a fast-moving environment, while the product manager keeps an eye on the project as a whole. And to return to the example from the beginning: Customer feedback is part of the product manager's remit.

Product Owner vs. product manager - the IAPM logo
Author: IAPM internal
Keywords: Project management, Product owner, Product manager

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