Product Manager vs. Product Owner – What’s the Difference
18/12/2022

Product Manager vs. Product Owner – What’s the Difference?

Table of contents:

    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 development teams and specialists with relevant expertise and specific duties – Product Managers and Product Owners.

    Although the job titles for these positions sound similar, and their holders pursue identical goals, the roles are not the same. 

    From this article, you will learn:

    • What distinguishes a Product Manager from a Product Owner, and what tasks do they deal with on a daily basis?
    • What role a Product Owner plays, and what qualities do they need?
    • When they are needed – a Product Manager, a Product Owner, or both of them?
    • Product Managers’ and Product Owners’ salaries – in Poland and globally.
    • What the cooperation between a Product Manager and a Product Owner looks like – can they work together effectively, and what might be the reasons for their unnecessary rivalry?

    Who is a Product Manager?

    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 and, on this basis, create an action plan that will enable clients’ and business partners’ needs to be met. They can assess the situation that determines 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. 

    Skills of a Product Manager

    With a wide range of duties on their shoulders, a Product Manager must demonstrate excellent observation skills, creativity, and communication skills. A 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 who investigates end users’ expectations and, at the same time, gets directly involved in the work as an engineer. No matter what the scenario is, a Product Manager can certainly be described as an all-rounder.

    Who is a Product Owner?

    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 that has been outlined. 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.

    A Product Owner is often compared 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 be carried out 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, 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.

    Skills of a Product Owner

    To achieve success and to perform tasks effectively, Product Owners need to... also be all-rounders, 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 they have gathered. Be as much a leader able to make decisions as a companion with technical knowledge and 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.

    When Will You Need a Product Manager, and When a Product Owner – The Difference Between Product Owners and Product Managers

    The qualities of a Product Manager and a Product Owner described above 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. Questions are asked about whether a Product Owner or a Product Manager are really needed and whether one specialist in a team will be able to reconcile the duties that are formally ascribed to both roles.

    Advancement of a Project in Progress

    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 different people will be needed for the positions of the Manager and Owner. Proper commitment on their part – which takes full attention and an adequate amount of time – is needed for the Scrum Team to receive support and for the company to be confident that the product being developed is in line with the adopted strategy and end users’ expectations.

    Team Size and Product Scope

    Each situation is different, so 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.

    Company Size

    The size of a company is also a factor to be considered 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 to 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, gets actively involved in the Scrum process. They keep an eye on the vision and direction of development while taking care of the backlog and efficiently communicating 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.

    Product Owner vs. Product Manager – Salary

    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 three times higher than that received by experts in the same position in Germany, Spain, or Italy. In Poland, the average salary for a Product Manager position is PLN 23,547 gross per month, although 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 this position in Germany is just over EUR 7,200, and in the United States, it exceeds USD 9,500.

    Product Manager and Product Owner – Rivalry or Synergy?

    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 and has a positive effect on the execution of consecutive projects while helping the organization maintain a competitive edge. The foundation for this kind of synergy is mutual understanding on both sides and the willingness to achieve the assumed goals together. For this to happen, it’s necessary to develop an appropriate communication framework. Only a clear and transparent flow of information and a framework that supports and facilitates the mutual transfer of knowledge guarantee that the right pace and direction of product development will be maintained. 

    Main Challenge of the Cooperation

    The challenge faced by every company with a Product Manager and a Product Owner on board is also defining their positions in the structure 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, and 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.

    Summary

    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 the targets to be reached. 

    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 the market, clients, and users.

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    CSHARK
    This article wouldn’t have been written without the engagement of our CSHARKers! It was created thanks to their expert knowledge & extensive experience. As multiple people were involved in the consultancy, creation, and verification process, we figured it’s not fair to list just one of us as an author. Let’s say it was a collective work of many great minds.