Companies tend to struggle whether they need to hire a product manager or a product owner. In the era of similar-sounding titles, the companies must focus on results they would like to achieve to make the right decisions.
Job market confusion:
The job market is full of offers both for product managers and product owners. Most job offers require a mixture of product management and project ownership skills and quite often the duties and responsibilities of each are blurred. As a result, you might be able to find product manager job offers containing the responsibilities of a product owner and vice versa.
As an HR professional working in the tech industry, I’ve also noticed a reoccurring offer for the role of “project manager”. This „new role” is growing in popularity and seems to connect the duties of a product manager and a product owner, but does it really work that way? Do you need a PO, PM or both? Which one should you hire when you’re on a tight budget?
Start by asking questions:
Who does what in my team? What are the current bottlenecks? How does my decision-making process work? What does a successful outcome look like for my process?
Answering these questions will give you an overview of how your company operates, and possible room for improvement. This information will help you structure your team and pick the right professional for the job.
Product owner vs. product manager
The term finds its origins in Scrum – an agile project management framework based on a set of meetings, tools and roles that help teams structure and manage their work.
The official Scrum Guide defines the role as being “…responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from work of the Development Team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, Scrum Teams, and individuals.”
In other words, the product owner is mainly responsible for optimizing the development process and maintaining the product backlog, which involves:
- Researching users’ needs and documenting insights.
- Deciding the next features to build.
- Improving the product by delivering features that customers demand.
- Setting long-term strategies for the product.
- Managing the team around the product roadmap.
- Being in contact with external partners and investors to provide information about the direction and progress of the product.
Simply put, the product owner role includes working closely with the software development team to make sure that the production process aligns with the roadmap and the product will be delivered on time.
The product manager role is quite different. It takes a more holistic, overall approach as it includes responsibilities that influence the product life cycle. The product manager role is to set and execute the product strategy.
Vision, deep understanding of customer needs, knowledge of the product, spokesman and selling skills, as well as overall market expertise are the qualities that every product manager needs.
Thanks to their wide skill set and strategic roles, product managers are a valuable asset to the company and production process itself. Their day-to-day work includes:
- Advocating the customers’ point of view and potential needs to the development team.
- Creating actionable user stories from customer issues.
- Creating and managing the product backlog.
- Structuring and setting priorities to particular production processes.
- Ensuring that the development team knows what to work on next.
- Ensuring that the process is aligned with the roadmap
- Providing feedback on the validated roadmap to the product manager.
Side-by-side job role comparisons:
|Product Manager||Product Owner|
The vast difference in soft skills is also worth underlying. Product owners should be creative thinkers, they should be able to truly understand and define the needs of their client or end-user. In contrast, the product manager is a highly focused, team-oriented person who is firm and demonstrates strong leadership qualities such as being able to make important decisions quickly and with conviction.
The actual range of required competence is always dictated by the needs of any given project, the product you’re working on, or the client themselves.
Despite requiring seemingly similar responsibilities, the product owner, product manager, and project manager are three separate and distinctly different roles that require different expertise, personality traits, and soft skills. It is possible to run a successful project without hiring staff for all three roles, but you should not expect to cover all three jobs with just one person as this will not give you the breadth of skills and time required to satisfy them well.
Do I need a product manager or product owner?
PM: If vision and strategy is what you need the most at the moment and if you’re on a tight budget but you want your company to grow, you should consider a good product manager who knows how to execute a well-planned strategy. A good product manager will help you to build digital products that create real value for your clients and satisfy the end-user.
PO: If delivering functional and technically polished digital products on time are your main focus, a product owner is who you should hire. A well-crafted backlog, clear documentation and smooth process execution will not be a problem for an experienced product owner.
A high sense of individual ownership will also help as you want to build a culture where everyone thinks like a product manager while executing the validated roadmap with high precision, attention to detail and a focus on the technical aspects.
Any more questions?
I hope this blogpost cleared up the main differences between the roles of product manager and product owner, with an increased awareness of where they differ and where they cross paths. In case you have any more questions, feel free to schedule an online consultation here.