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Paul McAvinchey
Co-founder of Product Collective
Asked a question 28 days ago

What are the key differences between a product owner and a product manager?

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Teresa Torres
Product Discovery Coach

Ant Murphy did a great job of outlining the history of these two roles. I find in practice one of two things happens in any given company. 1) Product managers and product owners are synonymous. 2) Product managers own vision, strategy, and customer relationships and product owners manage backlogs. I find the second scenario to be particularly troublesome. It moves teams a step back into the project, waterfall world instead of forward into a continuous, Agile, product world. I created  a video / blog about this topic20 if you want to dig in more: 

Ant Murphy
Product Coach and Consultant | Occasional Cat Herder 🐈

Long answer here31. But in a nutshell both, yes and no.

Product Management can trace it's origins back to 1931! But what it was even 20-30 years ago is vastly different from what it is today. 

Over the last couple of decades, we've been disrupted by the speed of technological advancement which left those who were once Product Managers managing physical products finding their skills being applied to managing digital products that could be updated and released to their customers daily rather than a new version coming out every 12 months.

As such the way we built products and did software needed to change - enter Scrum in the mid 90's.

Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber the founders of Scrum came up with a solution to this problem. A framework where software would be built in an iterative fashion and could keep up with the pace of change and adaptability that was needed at the time. In doing so they created two new roles, one of which was titled the 'Product Owner'.

At that time Product Management was still evolving and for many they were still in the old waterfall/traditional Product Management mode of operating (agile hadn't been created yet). As such Ken and Jeff wanted this role to be different, they wanted to give it more responsibility and behave differently than how Product Managers were behaving at the time, hence they wanted to call it something else:

“When I created the Product Owner role, I gave it more responsibility for product strategy and revenue generation than a Product Manager. I specifically pulled the best Product Manager Easel Corporation had out of Product Marketing and retrained him. It also has more responsibility for directly working with engineering 50% of the time to assure that the product fits customer needs. So it is a broader role in that sense but usually does not include Product Marketing (sales collateral, shows) or long term Competitive Analysis although it needs to support those efforts.

The goal was to eliminate the common Product Manager failing of throwing requirements over the wall only to have the customer receive something that they didn’t want.” — Jeff Sutherland2

Ironically the Product Manager role itself, separately from what was happening with Scrum and agile, identified this problem too and begun to reshape the role to solve it.

No surprise that they too adopted working in more iterative fashion with closer collaboration with the development team and today the Product Manager role looks very much like what the original intent of the PO role was.

However whatever reason these two worlds, really trying to do the same thing, moved independently from each other. Agile found itself, rightly or wrongly shoehorned into software development for a long time whilst Product Management continued to be more on the business side.

Disconnected they begun to move in different paths and over the years the perception of the PO role narrowed whilst the PM role broadened.

This was further reinforced by frameworks like SAFe5 who claim that the PO role is an internal-facing tactical one, whereas the PM role is market-facing and strategic.

Today the definitions are so entangled it's hard to really give a straight answer. But the original intent was there, and arguably if you stick to that, the roles are the same.

Product Owner = Product Manager, they are the same thing but as market perception grows they are in many ways drifting apart. Much like the dictionary definition of words, their meaning and connotation have shifted over time. 31

However with the baggage of Scrum and agile having its software history and the connotations that steam from the like of SAFe, etc whom have turn the PO role into nothing more than a 'backlog-monkey', many prefer the title Product Manager.

For me, it doesn't matter as long as you don't fall into the trap of having both and turning one into a tactical 'backlog-monkey' and the other into a "strategic" role.

Kent J McDonald
Product Manager & Writer

There are several differences between product owner and product manager. The answer you get will vary depending on if you talk to someone with a product management background versus someone who has spent most of their time as an agile coach or scrum master. 

The following discussion is based on what I’ve seen most often in practice:

Product manager is generally a job title that exists regardless of the approach that an organization takes for product development. Product owner is generally a role created as part of the Scrum framework for product development (in practice mostly used for software development). 

A product manager is concerned about all aspects of product development, both facing externally to understand customer’s problems and market needs and the internal aspects of developing a solution. Product owners tend to be primary concerned with internal issues and primarily interact with the rest of the team developing the product.

Greg Cohen
Founder, Agile Excellence LLC

I wrote about the key difference in 2015 here10

The long and short is PM is a very broad discipline and rarely does one person perform it all.  PO is a role on a Scrum team that is narrowly defined.  Thus, PMs can perform the role of PO and POs can perform PM responsibilities.  

Rich Mironov (Mironov.com6) found that Product ownership adds 40-60% more critical work to the traditional role of a product manager. A full scope PM who is also fully engaged with their Scrum team starts to look like a unicorn.

For me the key difference between a PM and PO boil down to i) levers to influence product success and ii) mindset.

i) Levers for Product Success

Both the Product Manager and Product Owner are responsible for the business success of the product. The Product Owner’s main “levers” of influence are features and the order in which they are developed (backlog). A Product Manager has the additional “business” levers, often considered part of the whole product, such as bundling, pricing, training, service levels, and channel offerings.

ii) Mindset

Of the two, Product Managers are more likely to advocate for funding.

Their conversation with management is “if you give me this funding, I will deliver you this business result.”

The Product Owner is more likely to be working on an approved project.

Their conversation with management is “If you are going to spend that money, I will ensure you get the most for your engineering investment.”

At the end of day, it is important to realize the full spectrum of responsibilities that Product Managers and Product Owners perform.  Regardless of who does the task, they are all necessary for product success.

Are "Product Manager " and "Product Owner" roles the same one or is there any difference between what they both do?5

 

There is a lot of mix up and confusion between Product Manager and Product Owner . In smaller organization the two will tend to blend, for larger organization there are significant difference.

Product Managers work at the interface to development, marketing, sales, corporate strategy, controlling etc. PM works to align and balance their various perspectives. PM usually does not hold responsible for product success, their responsibility is rather for alignment and market.

Product Owners carry the actual responsibility for the product - they are making sure it really works (and pick the right features to be added, and run agile dev teams, and are accountable for the product).

Traditionally, PMs will navigate in the market while POs are accountable for the product. PMs choose the right path and POs ensure it's being taken. PMs seek alignment, POs sometimes say 'no' to actually move things ahead. Yet there is a conflict of interest: strategies chosen in PM may be short lived 'hype' and 'buzz' driven. Strategies chosen by PO may be focused on defending an existing customer base or revenue stream. In case of a dysfunctional PM-PO alignment a product strategy will not get traction in the market and growth will not happen. To overcome this, PM needs to keep the product strategy stable for a reasonable period such that it can actually be executed. Likewise, PO needs to continuously question whether the dev teams build the right features for long term product success and growth.