Product owner vs project manager: Key differences
Last updated on: February 9, 2023
Who is a product owner?
Who is a project manager?
You have most likely already faced these terms in the past. Nevertheless, there’s often confusion about what these two terms stand for.
Are product owners and project managers the same? How do they differ?
Let’s delve deeper into these two occupations. In this blog post, we’ll:
- Explain the difference between products and projects,
- Explain what product owners are,
- Explain what project managers are,
- Define their roles, and
- Highlight their similarities and differences.
What is a product and what is a project?
To better understand product owners and project managers, it helps to know the differences between products and projects.
Any item or service that an organization creates to serve a customer’s needs is a product. For instance, products are goods (computers, phones, cars, etc.) or services (social media platforms, Internet providers, etc.).
On the other hand, a set of tasks that are completed to achieve a certain outcome is a project. The goal of a project can be to maintain or create a product such as a new software update or constructing a new building, but it can also be something else — such as improving a company’s internal systems.
Is product owner equivalent to project manager?
Even though these two positions overlap to an extent, they are still very different.
So, no — a product owner is not the same as a project manager.
However, despite their differences, both of them are great career options.
To get a better understanding of these roles, let’s dig deeper into what they entail.
Who is a product owner?
In short, the product owner is a person who is primarily concerned that the right product is built and the problems are solved in order of priority.
A product owner is a role closely related to Scrum — an Agile framework that allows teams to quickly and effectively communicate and adapt in solving complex issues.
There are three roles in the Scrum team — and here’s how the product owner fits in:
- Scrum master – a person who makes sure that the team members achieve success both individually and as a team,
- Developer – a member of the Scrum team who works on creating and developing the increment that leads to the achievement of the goal, and
- Product owner – a team member responsible for maximizing the product’s value
So, every Scrum team needs a product owner.
However, as evident, Scrum typically does not involve a position of the project manager.
To add more detail to the definition of product owners, they make sure that teams follow certain rules and guidelines for the development of products.
The product owner’s job is to turn the idea into the product.
The team has faith in the product owner’s oversight of both the beginning of the project and potential scope changes that might occur as the product develops.
Now that we know who the product owner is, let’s look at what are and aren’t some of the product owner’s responsibilities.
💡 Plaky Pro Tip
In case you want to learn more about the way Scrum works, check out this guide:
What are the product owner’s responsibilities?
The responsibilities of the product owner are:
- Developing a clear product goal and clearly communicating that goal to the team
- Creating and managing the product backlog — i.e. a list detailing what needs to be done by the team to create and sustain the product
- Representing stakeholders and customers’ needs
- Assuring that the product backlog items are visible, straightforward, and that they present what the Scrum team will work on next
- Making sure that everyone’s focused on the goals that should be achieved and that everyone has the same product vision
- Taking care of the product backlog, delivery dates, product progress, and the steps that will be taken next
- Increasing the value of the product by making choices on what to include and what not to include in the product
- Granting continuous and clear product support
- Securing supplies and sources for the product
- Taking care of the budget for the product, the overall cost of ownership, and managing, sharing, and constructing the vision of the product
What are NOT the product owner’s responsibilities?
After listing some of the product owner’s responsibilities, it is time to talk about those things that a product owner should not do. The product owner should not:
- Be responsible for the team’s effectiveness — this is the Scrum master’s job.
- Be responsible for managing day-to-day work — this is the job of the developers.
- Be responsible for removing obstacles during work — the Scrum master should do that.
- Be responsible for establishing a Scrum framework — this is another Scrum master’s responsibility.
- Be concerned with all the tiny details — to manage details, the product owner works with the developers.
- Act like a doorkeeper between the stakeholders and the team — product owners do represent the stakeholders’ needs, but the entire scrum team communicates the results and progress of their work to stakeholders.
- Be responsible for the product feedback — nevertheless, the product owner can share feedback with other team members — just like anybody else from the team who received some kind of feedback from the users.
Which skills or characteristics does the product owner have?
The list of skills that characterize the product owner is quite long. However, the 3 most important ones include the following:
- Decision making – They should be able to recognize opportunities and take responsibility. Also, they should make mindful decisions that minimize the chances of product’s failure.
- Adaptability skills – They should be flexible and dynamic. As they work in an environment that changes constantly, product owners should adapt quickly based on the feedback they get.
- Scoping skills – Being able to understand the industry and the market that they create the product for.
Who is a project manager?
Project manager is a much broader term than product owner.
A project manager is a person assigned by the organization to lead the team that is responsible for achieving the goals of the project.
Project managers work in closed and well-defined systems. Their primary function is to make sure project goals are reached within a certain time frame on a predefined budget.
However, the goal of the project does not always have to be a product. It can be the creation of a new information system or construction of an industrial plant. This is in contrast with the role of the product owner who is focused on the creation of the product.
So, the role of the project manager is not strictly defined like the role of the product owner is. It often depends on the company that they work for and the project they are working on.
A project manager should understand the project and its strategic role — they need to see the project through from the beginning to the end.
We’ve established that project managers have a great degree of responsibility. So, let’s dive in and see what their responsibilities are.
💡 Plaky Pro Tip
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What are the project manager’s responsibilities?
The project manager’s role is very broad and extensive. Thus, many different responsibilities are related to it. Some of them include:
- Controlling the project organization
- Defining project objectives and goals
- Defining project scope
- Creating a task schedule and defining its duration
- Creating and managing project plans
- Managing changes and change requests
- Tracking and measuring the progress of the team working on the project
- Maintaining the quality of the project team’s work
- Managing project risks
- Supervising the execution of the project in project management tools
- Managing project documentation
- Managing project resources
- Closing the project
What are NOT the project manager’s responsibilities?
It is pretty hard to say what the project manager does not do as their role might depend on the industry, the methodology, and the company itself. Despite having seemingly numerous responsibilities, there are still some accountabilities that are not a project manager’s job.
It is not the project manager’s job to take care of the individual tasks. The project manager should only:
- Set the tasks,
- Assign team members to specific tasks,
- Provide guidance on how to execute them.
After the project manager has completed this, the project team works on the specific tasks.
Which skills or characteristics should a project manager have?
Apart from the technical skills that a project manager might need, there are certain soft skills and characteristics that are associated with this role — for example:
- Leadership skills – Project managers lead people through the process of the project and make sure that everyone is doing their job. Therefore, they should have good leadership skills to inspire people to complete the project.
- Communication skills — To make sure that the job is done properly, the project manager should know how to communicate well with the rest of the people from their work life such as other members of the team and clients.
- Negotiating skills – To keep the project on track, remove obstacles, and complete the project on time, they should know how to negotiate the project terms with stakeholders.
- Time management skills — Project managers need to know how to take care of the project deadlines and ensure that no part of the process takes longer than needed.
- Risk management skills — Project managers should know how to identify, address, and manage project risks effectively.
💡 Plaky Pro Tip
If you want to learn how to become a successful project manager, check out this more detailed guide on project management skills:
Shared characteristics of product owners and project managers
The position of the product owner is closely related to the Scrum framework, whereas the project manager position is much broader.
Nevertheless, there are some traits we could say define both of these roles.
So, here is a list of some characteristics that are common for both project managers and product owners:
- The focus on great organizational skills — Both product owners and project managers should be very well organized. They should be able to see the bigger picture, what their final destination is, how to reach it.
- The focus on great communication skills — Both product owners and project managers should be able to communicate well with everyone in their work environment, such as customers, team members, suppliers, and many others.
- The ability to guide — This is an important skill for both, but the type of guidance is different. More on that in the section below.
Differences between product owners and project managers
In a way, comparing product owners and project managers is like comparing apples to oranges — because these roles and the terms behind them exist in different contexts.
To help you understand the two concepts when compared, here’s a table comparing some of the main aspects of these roles, highlighting their most important differences.
|Aspect||Product owner||Project manager|
|Function||– Serves as an internal customer expert|
– Develops the product goal
– Creates and maintains the product backlog
|– Supervises the project|
– Makes sure that the deadlines are met
– Manages complex work across many teams
|Collaboration||Works closely with other members of the Scrum team to deliver and maintain the product goal||Works with the project team, and sometimes, the stakeholders, to supervise the realization of the project|
|Product vision||– Creates a vision according to customer needs|
– Takes part in the execution of the vision
|Executes the vision|
|Leadership style||Inspires the team and steers them into the right direction||Leads and inspires people to do the their part of the job and deliver output|
|Managing the process||Maintains only the product backlog||Cares about details of creating, managing, and assigning work to the members of the team|
Who earns more: product owners or project managers?
According to Glassdoor, the average salary of project managers is $84,950, whereas the average salary of product owners is $115,869 per year.
So, on average, product owners earn more than project managers. But, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case and can depend on many factors — such as the industry, organization, location, etc.
💡 Plaky Pro Tip
In case you want to read more about project manager salaries, check this guide:
Conclusion: Product owners and project managers are not easily compared
At the end of the day, both product owners and project managers are responsible for what is being delivered. Both are responsible for the team’s effort in bringing value to the stakeholders.
Product owner is a term specific to Scrum, while a project manager is a much broader term.
This is why these roles are not easy to compare — but we hope we’ve provided you with a clearer picture of both.
✉️ Do you have any additional questions about product owners and project managers? Are there any dilemmas regarding their skills and responsibilities? If so, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we may include some of your ideas in our future blog posts. Also, if you liked this post and found it useful, share it with someone who will benefit from it!