Digital products are with us at every step.
Thanks to the progress of digital transformation, they change even the long-standing patterns and proven processes in various industries. Ensuring that digital products properly perform their tasks and meet user needs is the responsibility of not only development teams. Here Product Managers and Product Owners come into the picture.
Yes, the job titles for these positions sound similar.
Their holders pursue identical goals, but the roles are not the same.
From this article, you will learn:
A Product Manager plays a strategic role in an organization.
They are responsible for setting the direction in which the company, including its portfolio, is heading. Product Managers look at the surrounding business reality from a broad perspective. On this basis, they create an action plan that will meet the clients’ and business partners’ needs. They can assess whether the company will be able to maintain a competitive edge and develop its products to meet end users’ expectations.
A Product Manager is responsible for outlining the goal which, not without reason, is the starting point for work on each digital product. This aspect highlights how important they are in the entire process. This is also why a Product Manager bears the burden of responsibility for the future of the product.
The success or failure of a solution depends largely on a Product Manager and on how well they will explore the market, collect and sort out the conclusions, and then pass them on to the Product Owner and the development team. The final outcome results from the Product Manager’s involvement in the entire process, including not only strategy preparation, design, and development but also marketing, sales, and distribution.
With a wide range of duties on their shoulders, a Product Manager must demonstrate excellent observation skills, creativity, and communication skills.
Product Manager needs these qualities to be able to build relations with the company departments as well as to communicate with the end users of a specific product.
What drives software developers? For over 63% of them, it’s knowing that their work matters and can bring specific benefits. That is why they appreciate the information that allows them to understand the direction of the organization’s operations or the goal of a specific project.
At the same time, a Product Manager’s role doesn’t have a strictly defined framework. Depending on the size of a company and individual factors, their scope of responsibilities and the required skills may vary.
One Product Manager may be more specialized in a certain area of work. For instance, they may focus on business aspects along with the administrative and financial side of a project. Another one may act as a researcher investigating end users’ expectations and, at the same time, being directly involved in the work as an engineer.
No matter what the scenario is, we can certainly describe a Product Manager as an all-rounder.
A Product Owner plays a practical role in an organization.
In a project executed using the SCRUM methodology, they’re responsible for the materialization of the vision. They’re like a guide who, after taking a look at the map received from the Product Manager (or the management), sets a path and leads developers along it, ensuring that a product with specific shape and functionalities is created.
We often compare Product Owner to the user’s representative within the teams. It’s from this perspective – the end user’s perspective – that a Product Owner assesses the progress of work and constantly informs developers as to whether they’re heading in the right direction. A Product Owner sets priorities and assigns daily tasks to get closer to achieving the goal.
The distinguishing features of a Product Owner’s work are user stories and epics, which they prepare and provide to developers to familiarize them with end users’ needs.
These are more or less detailed tasks reflecting the expectations concerning a specific functionality. They can be completed in one or more sprints. Therefore, a Product Owner establishes, fills out, and then takes care of the backlog. They do that for both for the entire project and for individual sprints.
What did Product Owners do before? Almost every third of them didn’t occupy a role related to product development. 22.7% of them worked as Project Managers, and 21.8% were Business Analysts.
To achieve success and to perform tasks effectively, Product Owners need to... also be all-rounders. Just as is the case with Product Managers.
Not only must they be good listeners, but also be able to communicate well and convey clearly the knowledge. Be as much a leader able to make decisions as a companion with an understanding, capable of resolving conflicts. The pace of work on a project and its consistency with the original vision depend on how well they combine all these qualities.
The qualities of a Product Manager and a Product Owner point to their distinguishing features and their respective scopes of responsibilities.
Nevertheless, multiple organizations find it difficult to understand these differences and decide on how to arrange their internal structure. You may ask questions about whether you really need a Product Owner or a Product Manager, and whether one specialist in a team will be able to reconcile the duties that we formally ascribe to both roles.
Something to guide companies in their decisions may be the advancement of the project they’re currently executing. The greater its scale and complexity level, the more likely it is that you'll need different people as the Manager and Owner. The Scrum Team needs proper commitment on their part – which takes full attention and an adequate amount of time. Thank to this, the team receives support and the company can be confident that the product is in line with the strategy and end users’ expectations.
Each situation is different. It’s worth remembering that certain templates and patterns out there may not work in our case. Taking all the variables into account is crucial in the proper assessment of the tasks and the workload. It will look different with a new product being developed by a small team, who are only at the point of recognizing user needs in a particular area, and with an existing product that needs new functionalities. Where it’s necessary to coordinate multiple people, where different teams and company departments are involved, and where you must consider all the incoming information that needs analysis and management – both the Product Manager and Product Owner will need to be engaged.
The size of a company is also a factor you should consider when making the decision. A larger structure, meaning more Scrum Teams in place or more ongoing projects, makes the presence of both the Manager and Owner necessary. Thank to that, you can maintain the right direction and pace of work. In a way, their cooperation is a remedy for any internal chaos that may otherwise occur.
Small organizations can cope with such challenges perfectly well, and many times Product Manager fulfills their own duties and, at the same time, is actively involved in the Scrum process. They keep an eye on the vision and direction of development while taking care of the backlog. They also efficiently communicate conclusions from customer feedback to developers. This is possible due to the scale of the company’s business. As a result, one person is able to reconcile various duties and effectively fulfill them, even though they belong to both Manager and Owner roles.
A wide range of duties and the great responsibility for business development on a Product Managers’ shoulders are reflected in their high salary.
In the United States, at about $8,500 a month, it’s more than 75% higher than the national average wage. A specialist in this position may count on high earnings also in other parts of the world. When it comes to Europe, it’s particularly worth mentioning Switzerland, where the average is around EUR 14,000 per month.
This amount is almost 3 times higher than that received by experts in Germany, Spain, or Italy. In Poland, the average salary for a Product Manager is PLN 23,547 gross per month. However, there are also Product Managers who earn more than PLN 41,000 gross per month.
Product Owners, as an important element of the scrum team, may expect in Poland an average monthly salary of around PLN 11,729 gross. In contrast, the average salary for a specialist in Germany is just over EUR 7,200. In the United States, it exceeds USD 9,500.
Comparisons of Product Managers and Product Owners often highlight the potential risks of poorly arranged cooperation between these roles.
Having two captains on one ship sounds like asking for trouble and implies decision-making and organizational chaos, don’t you agree?
Is it so in this case?
Practice shows that in large organizations, fruitful cooperation between a Product Manager and a Product Owner is nothing unusual. It has a positive effect on the execution of consecutive projects while helping the organization maintain a competitive edge.
The foundation for this synergy is mutual understanding on both sides and the willingness to achieve the goals together. For this to happen, it’s necessary to develop an appropriate communication framework. Only a clear and transparent flow of information guarantees that the right pace and direction of product development will be maintained.
The challenge faced by every company with a Product Manager and a Product Owner on board is defining their positions in the structure. It helps to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings.
While the Manager is responsible for the final outcome of the project and keeps in touch with the stakeholders, clients, and management – so, theoretically, the impact is greater – they shouldn’t be above the Product Owner in the hierarchy.
Their relationship should be horizontal rather than vertical. It should be based on joint efforts to achieve the goals set. In this case, a narrower spectrum of activities doesn’t mean less impact.
After all, it’s often a Product Owner who is well aware of the priorities and skilfully manages them, thus bringing the project to a happy ending.
Two captains on one ship sailing on the high seas...
This comparison, as you could see above, doesn’t accurately reflect the case of a project in which both the Product Manager and Product Owner are involved.
In this situation, we can rather speak of the cooperation that interlocks in many places. Cooperation that makes it possible to maximize the effectiveness of the process and ensure that a product is created on time and in line with the company’s vision and end users’ expectations.
The above illustrates the combination of theory with practice. The combination of strategy, which shows the general direction and goal, with tactics, which allow to reach the target.
In the rapidly changing business reality, such synergy is of key importance.
It enables specialists to effectively perform their tasks, and the company to deliver products tailored to the needs of both clients and users.