Because the product owner and product manager positions tend to work toward the same goals, it’s easy to get confused about which role does what and what responsibilities belong to whom. 

To understand just how different these roles, let’s explore what each role entails, the skills needed for the job, and possible career paths for the future.

Product Owner vs Product Manager: Key Differences

Identifying the difference between a product owner vs product manager is something many businesses and entrepreneurs have tackled. One source notes the ambiguity of the terms seeing as an “owner” often outranks the “manager” in most businesses, while other sources acknowledge that the similarities between the two are so apparent that the terms are often used interchangeably. 

The truth is that the difference falls somewhere in the middle – the duties of the product owner vs product manager overlap, but they each have their own distinctions and training. This is exactly where Scrum training become important.

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Product Owners

“Product owner” as a term is derived from Scrum, a framework used for creating and supporting complex products. According to the official Scrum Guide, a product owner is someone who’s “responsible for maximizing the value of a product resulting from the work of the Development Team.”

The product owner role is actually part of the Scrum team itself and has a specific duty to carry out. Seeing as Scrum uses a framework to create and support complex products, it follows that it uses a system of tasks and keeps score using some form of product management software or tool. The product owner fits into the mix by prioritizing these tasks for the workers or engineers. To keep the ball rolling, the product owner needs to ensure a good list is maintained so that engineers have the right tasks to work on for the ultimate end product.

Product Owner Duties Include: 

  • Convert the project manager’s vision into pragmatic tasks
  • Convert these tasks into daily duties for workers
  • Compose user stories for the development team
  • Organize work in the backlog

Necessary Skills for Product Owners

To be a successful product owner, one has to hold and hone a number of skills. These skills will not only make operations run smoothly, but they’ll also help bring in more customers so that the business can grow. The Scrum Alliance notes that all great product owners should be the following:

Provider of Excellent Customer Service

Part of being a product owner vs product manager is knowing how to take care of customers. While a large part of the work is administrative, you also need to know what the customer needs before they do. This means thinking critically, coming up with solutions for modern problems, and being available at all times.

Strong Storyteller

Delighting the customer is a large part of a product owner’s job, and this can be done through great product storytelling. Product storytelling means thinking about the user stories sent to developers, and really fleshing them out. Don’t just think about the story – think about which aspects of the story will speak to and delight customers.

Information Liaison

The product owner is responsible for the product backlog and acts as the middleman between the development team and stakeholders. As a liaison, the product owner helps foster collaboration between the developers and the people they need to talk to (stakeholders, other developers, etc.) so that the final product is always correct. 

Problem Solver

In product development, issues will arise over everything from resources to politics. A good product owner needs to have the strength and wherewithal to engage with the development team and other parties when conflicts arise. Keeping the product moving forward is the top responsibility, and conflict resolution is a useful tool to accomplish this.

Product Owner Career Paths 

The most straightforward career path for a product owner vs product manager in the Scrum framework is to go from owner to manager. However, there are other paths to take when paired with the right certification. These include: 

  • Business Analyst
  • Product Manager
  • Project Manager
  • Chief Executive Officer

Product Managers

The product manager determines and prioritizes what to build next. In other words, they keep things moving when one product is finished by moving on to the next. Overall, the product manager is a holistic role with high-level responsibilities that cover the entirety of the product life cycle, from customer awareness to product delivery. 

In addition to product management duties, a successful product manager is also a strong leader, customer spokesperson and liaison, product visionary, and team player.

Product Manager Duties Include: 

  • Identify what users need through user research and share critical insights for next steps
  • Unite the team around a comprehensive action plan
  • Produce the complete vision for the product’s life cycle
  • Choose which feature to begin building next
  • Deliver a product that functions well and meets customer expectations
  • Support the team, partners, and stakeholders to ensure the vision, plan, and strategy for the product run smoothly

Necessary Skills for Product Managers

To be a top product manager, there are certain skills (both soft and hard) needed for optimal success. Some skills are developed in school, others occur naturally from life experience, and still others that can be developed through certification programs and advanced learning. They include: 

Excellent Communication Skills

To successfully manage a product throughout its lifecycle, product managers must be able to relay directions, objectives, tasks, and priorities to their colleagues.

Business Experience

A basic understanding of business is necessary, such as how to handle profits, budgeting, cash-flow, and other components of product development. 

Technical Expertise

Many product managers have to work with software, apps, and other tech resources. Having a strong understanding of how to do this goes a long way. 

Prioritization Skills 

To complete tasks and move a product smoothly through its lifecycle, prioritization skills are a must. Knowing which goals and deadlines should come first, which can wait, and which are highly urgent ensures that all project requirements will be fulfilled on time.

Product Manager Career Paths

Throughout a product manager’s career, they may find themselves in a few different roles. The following are the most common next career steps for product managers:

  • Associate Product Manager
  • Senior Product Manager
  • Director
  • VP of Product
  • Chief Product Officer

Is a Product Manager the Same Thing as a Product Owner?

Given that there are specific key differences between how different companies carry out these roles, it may be challenging to discern between a product owner and a product manager. The degree to which a product is mature, the scale of the organization, the departmental hierarchies, the adoption of Scrum and Agile methodologies, and the business philosophy are just a few examples.

Building and enhancing products that generate significant value for clients and other stakeholders within the business is the product manager's and product owner's shared objective. It often occurs through the delivery and improvement of product features.

Can a Product Owner Also Be a Product Manager?

The product manager identifies user needs, decides what to build next based on priority, and unites the team around a product plan.

The product owner is in charge of building and overseeing the product backlog to maximize the product's value. In addition, this individual contributes to the Scrum process by writing user stories for the development team and representing the client's viewpoint.

The roles and responsibilities of a product manager will vary depending on the situation and the stage of the product, and a product owner is a Scrum team member. However, the position is product manager. As a result, one person might carry out both tasks at once.

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What Does a Product Manager Focus on?

Product managers must analyze the market and the competitors to develop a vision for a product that is distinct from the competition and provides consumers with the value that satisfies their needs. The position involves strategic and tactical work, and it requires cross-functional leadership with groups from other departments, including the engineering team, marketing, customer support, and sales.

A product manager is required for the following actions:

  • Investigating how customers use and appreciate a product
  • Revealing insights into client feedback on what functions and what does not 
  • Which features of a product are necessary and which are not
  • Develop a plan of action based on a long-term goal
  • Make a roadmap to ensure that the products team stays on the same page at all times
  • Decide which features on current items should be added next
  • Start developing and delivering the features that clients not only require but also desire
  • To ensure that everyone is aligned on the strategy the product needs to be following for success, promote and coordinate with the product team, partners, and stakeholders

What Does a Product Owner Focus on?

It's possible to be misled by the term "product owner." It is not a person who owns the finished product or the business that manufactures the product. Instead, it's a word that comes from Scrum, a scaled agile paradigm for creating and maintaining complex products.

Product owners are in charge of maintaining the backlog of products. It implies that they are in charge of a list of workable tasks for new features, any modifications to current features, bug repairs, etc., to ensure that a team can produce a particular product outcome. It covers all of the tasks an agile team will complete.

The only person in charge of backlog grooming is the product owner. The product owner also performs the following addition to that:

  • Prioritizes the user stories and organizes them in the product backlog by converting client issues and pains into actionable user stories
  • To make sure that the development team knows what to work on next, the team builds and prioritizes production processes
  • Participates in all Scrum and agile meetings to make sure that the development activity is in line with the roadmap established by the product manager
  • Communicates to the development team the customer's voice
  • Gives the product manager input on the validated roadmap

Product Owner Vs. Product Manager: Do You Need Both?

Product owners and managers both have essential roles to perform within an organization. The product manager and product owner may collaborate easily to create and improve client solutions when the workflow between the two positions is in alignment.

A company developing a large, sophisticated product should ideally be able to hire both a product manager and a product owner who will play distinct but perfectly complementary responsibilities within the product team.

The product manager can keep an eye on the big picture while leading a group of competent employees and interacting with stakeholders outside the company. The product owner will simultaneously be able to handle the daily tasks and make sure you produce a fantastic product.

Product Owner Vs. Product Manager Salary

One aspect to consider when deciding whom a firm wants is salary. The potential effects on annual budgets and profit margins are possible. For example, the average yearly salary for a product owner is USD 110,000, whereas the starting salary for a product manager is USD 112,000.

What Is the Product Owner Career Path?

When you are a scrum product owner, you have decision-making authority. In addition, you fully own a product. Thus the future career path will involve additional accountability and duties.

The following is a list of possible career pathways for product owners:

  • Senior Product Owner

A product manager with substantial industry knowledge and specialization is a senior product owner. To make sure that their ideas are implemented, they are in charge of overseeing the development of new goods and features. Frequently, they collaborate with cross-functional teams.

The maintenance of current goods or services may also be within the responsibility of senior product owners. Managing feature upgrades or resolving user-reported issues are a couple of examples of what this may include.

  • Scrum Master

A product officer can further their career by becoming a scrum master. The scrum master is responsible for the efficiency of the scrum team, which is accomplished by assisting the scrum team in improving its procedures.

Three primary duties of a scrum master are as follows:

  • Scrum team leadership
  • serving as a mentor and advisor to the PO
  • Direct organizational activities, including counseling and education for stakeholders.

Additionally, one of the primary duties of a scrum master is to assist the product owner in coming up with methods for product backlog management.

  • Portfolio Owner

A product portfolio manager, often known as a portfolio owner, is someone who manages a group of products. Large firms that work on numerous products, components, features, and platforms frequently have this role. A portfolio owner's responsibility is to maximize a product portfolio's value. This involves actively managing the portfolio, working with the product owners responsible for the portfolio's individual products, harmonizing individual product strategies and roadmaps, aligning major releases, managing dependencies, and assisting in developing a uniform user experience for all of the products. The person will often gain strong product management abilities and successfully manage specific products from entering the post.

  • Product Manager

A product manager is a more important position or title than a product owner. A product manager is someone who isn't simply concerned with value maximization but also leads and oversees the long-term strategies of the products. A product manager (PM) is an expert in charge of all aspects of a product, software, or service, from conception and creation to its launch and maintenance. A smart product manager knows how to implement a product strategy to provide value to customers and communicate the vision of a product to staff members. The product manager role is more managerial in nature than the technical product officer function.

  • Product Director

The position that oversees and manages product managers in an organization is called a product director or director of product management. In small businesses, you can succeed as the product owner or senior product owner and immediately advance to the position of product director.

A senior management job known as "product director" is responsible for strategically overseeing all the goods that the company develops. Product directors who subsequently report to the head of the product receive reports from product managers. Most of the time is spent leading, planning, and controlling because it is a leadership position.

  • Head of Product

A higher management corporate position in charge of all the products in the company is the head of product, vice president of product, or chief product officer. An organization may employ a variety of titles, such as head of product, VP of product, chief product officer, or a title similar to these, depending on the company's size and the number of products it owns. A product owner should aim for this management level because it is the top one in an organization.

How to become a Product Manager?

To become a product manager, a blend of formal education, hands-on experience, and continuous learning is crucial. Starting with a strong foundation in business, technology, or design principles, aspiring product managers often enhance their skills through real-world projects. Engaging in professional development opportunities, such as workshops or seminars, and leaning into the practical insights offered by a Product Manager Certification, can provide a nuanced understanding of the role. This combination not only sharpens one’s ability to lead cross-functional teams but also hones the strategic thinking required to navigate the product lifecycle effectively. Networking with industry professionals and staying updated on the latest trends further solidifies one's path to becoming a successful product manager.

Pursue a Career in Product Management

Simplilearn’s Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) Certification Training Course will help you learn how to manage any project's entire life cycle from start to finish. You will learn how to lead teams and communicate across all levels of an organization to speed the delivery of high-quality products to your customers while achieving maximum project ROI.

Our training is the ideal course for every aspiring professional who wants to pursue a career in project management, for both product owner vs product manager. The course aims to help you get certified on your first attempt.