Product Owner vs Product Manager: Know the Differences, Skills Needed, and Career Paths

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 are, let’s explore what each role entails, the skills needed for the job, and possible career paths for the future.

What’s the Difference Between a Product Owner vs Product Manager?

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

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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 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
Interested to begin a career in Agile and Scrum? Try answering these Agile Scrum Master Exam Prep Questions and find out!

Pursue a Career in Product Management

Simplilearn’s Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) Certification Training will help you learn how to manage any project's entire life cycle from start to finish. You will learn how to lead scrum 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.

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