The Difference Between a Product Owner and Product Manager, Explained

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Clint Fontanella
Clint Fontanella


Do you know how movies are made?


In short, a writer develops a compelling storyline and then finds a director to bring his or her vision to life on the big screen. This allows the writer to focus on building the best story possible and gives the director the tools needed to visualize the story to an audience. Through this dynamic partnership, Hollywood has captivated our imaginations, as well as our wallets, over the last century.

But this relationship isn't unique to cinema and exists in most SaaS companies through the product owner and product manager. These roles operate together to build and improve products, and both the product owner and the product manager work closely with company stakeholders to optimize new features.

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Since they're often working towards the same goal, sometimes there's confusion regarding who has responsibility for each aspect of product development. While they do have similar goals, there are distinct differences between a product owner and a product manager that are important to keep in mind when developing new products.

Let's dive into a few more differences between these roles in the sections below.

1. Their connection to the product is different. 

Product Owner

The product owner is a scrum development position that translates the customer's needs into a product vision. Product owners are customer-centric, and they stay updated on the trends arising in their marketplace. They're responsible for learning about customer roadblocks, and then developing new product or feature ideas that lead to customer success.

Product owners maximize the value of the product throughout the product development process by communicating the customer's needs to the entire company.

Product Manager

Once the product owner establishes the project's goal, product managers guide the development process from conception to release. Product managers have thorough product expertise and work closely with engineering and design teams. They're responsible for making sure these teams meet the expectations laid out by the product owner, and if problems arise, product managers make the tough logistical decisions that influence the product's development timeline.

2. One focuses on the product; the other focuses on the people building the product.

Product Owner

Product owners are responsible for managing user stories and organizing customer feedback. They identify common roadblocks by responding to criticism as if they were a customer support representative. For problems that can't be solved, the product owner logs potential solutions to these obstacles in the product backlog. The product owner then prioritizes this backlog for the product development team to address.

Additionally, the product owner is responsible for continuously motivating the development teams to meet the project's original goal. To maximize product value, the product owner must confirm their team is invested in the intent of the new product or feature.

To do so, product owners participate in daily scrum rituals like sprint preparation meetings and quick team-building activities like daily standups. These team collaboration functions give team members opportunities to ask questions regarding the direction of the development process.

Product Manager

Product managers make sure that everyone has the resources needed to fulfill the product owner's vision. They make the business value clear to the engineering and design teams by defining what the project is, why they're doing it, and when the expected deadlines are. The product manager routinely works with these teams to overcome any unexpected roadblocks that may impede product development.

Outside of working with design and engineering teams, the product manager must also communicate with Sales, Marketing, and Customer Service departments. Together, they perform customer behavior analyses as well as look at product usage charts to determine the most optimal release strategy. The product manager is responsible for articulating the key benefits of the product so these teams can optimize the sales and marketing efforts upon release.

3. One visualizes the product's concept; the other executes the development strategy. 

Product Owner

When it comes to adding a new product or feature, the product owner is the visionary. Using first party data, he or she compiles a list of potential features for the product manager. The product owner then prioritizes the most useful features for the target audience and narrows the list for the product manager.

Once the project's plan is finalized, the product owner communicates the upcoming updates to the company's stakeholders. This creates an open feedback loop where the product owner can continuously relay information between the product team and stakeholders.

Product Manager

After the product vision is established, the product manager oversees the development process leading up to the release date. If roadblocks occur, it's their job to prioritize which features need to be included to fulfill the project's intent.

This sometimes includes making difficult trade-off decisions that go against the original product vision. When this happens, the product owner must trust that the product manager is making the right calls for both the company's and the customer's benefit.

Additionally, undergoing a new project can often kick-start employee imagination, resulting in an array of strong and weak product ideas. If a new idea is proposed during the product development process, it's the product manager's job to manage these suggestions.

The product manager must create a system to sort through these proposals and highlight those that align with the product's intention. For weaker suggestions, they should provide employees coaching for where these ideas could be improved for future addition.

4. One ensures deadlines are met; the other approves product quality. 

Product Owner

The development process begins and ends with the product owner's approval. In addition to providing the blueprint for the product, the product owner makes sure that the development progress is in accordance with the original concept.

The product owner regularly checks in on the product manager and can reprioritize development efforts if there's a bad design. This creates a quality control system that manages the conceptual and technical integrity of the new product or feature. When the product is ready for release, the product owner makes the final approval before bringing it to market.

Product Manager

Product managers handle the logistical end of the product strategy by facilitating the steps in the development process. He or she delegates which teams are responsible for building new features, then defines all the actions needed to bring the product to market. Product managers also determine the timeline for product releases, then communicate those expectations to marketing, sales, and customer service teams.

5. Each role communicates with different stakeholders.

Product Owner

Product owners act as the liaison between the company's stakeholders and its product management teams. They ensure that there's support for the upcoming product or feature from both internal and external influencers.

If there's disapproval, product owners must relay that instruction back to the developers for consideration. Once a solution has been identified, they complete the feedback loop by returning back to the stakeholders for approval.

Product Manager

Product managers operate more internally than product owners. They work closely with engineering teams by writing code for new features and help them meet upcoming deadlines. They also work with user experience teams to test their project's progress by using A/B tests and customer reviews.

Additionally, product managers work with marketing and sales teams to best position the product's release. For example, product managers work with site merchandisers to outline product placement strategies as well as how the product will be described on the website. These cross-department efforts give sales and marketing teams further insight into the new benefits that customers will care about most.

Now that you know the difference between these two roles, you may be wondering why you need both. For example, why can't you just combine the role into one and save some labor costs? Having both a product owner and product manager can be a huge benefit to your business, and the section below outlines two areas where you can see that improvement in your product development process.

Why Do You Need Both a Product Manager and a Product Owner?


By hiring both a product owner and product manager, you'll be able to produce new products at a faster rate. This is because less time will be needed for organizing product teams as there'll already be a facilitator ready to manage these projects. There'll also be a structure of team communication set up that quickly relays information throughout the company. If a problem pops up, the team will have resources readily available to address those obstacles. This helps teams work more efficiently because roadblocks will be easier to overcome.


By acting as a system of checks and balances, product owners and product managers ensure consistency throughout product development. This is because there's an open flow of communication between the product teams and the company's stakeholders. If changes are made, everyone is notified, and feedback can be easily addressed. This helps to make sure the final product fulfills the original goal outlined by the product owner.

Interested in getting a job in product management? Check out this next post about the steps that you can take to become a product manager.

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