Product Management: Product Manager Vs Product Owner

Project Management and its disciplines have been around for a long time with a rich history of documentation that dates back to the construction of the pyramids of Giza. Unlike the project management methodology, product management is a relatively new discipline that is slowly gaining popularity in the past 20 years. Product Management focuses on the lifecycle of the products that an organization delivers to its customers.

Difference between a Product Manager and a Product Owner

The product management methodology involves the collaboration of the product managers, product owners, and the stakeholders of the organization in developing the product portfolio. Product Managers (PMs) are the leaders in product management who take the initiative and make strategic decisions about the products that the organizations will create. They collaborate with the project manager and other stakeholders of the project to plan and manage the final product delivery.

Product Management vs. Project Management

It is easy to confuse product management with project management, as it involves the planning and managing of the product or project delivery to the customers of the organization. However, they are very different from each other in terms of their respective domain. In project management, project managers have pre-defined roles and responsibilities. Along with the three constraints of project management – planning, scheduling, and budgeting, they manage resources and lead the project management team to successful project delivery. This project delivery involves the delivery of an approved product or service that the organization is delivering to its customers or clients. Project Managers also referred to as PMs, are not involved in the product portfolio development.

A product manager understands the business needs as well as the customers’ requirements. They decide the entire product portfolio of the organization and prioritize the products that should be developed first. The product management methodology emphasizes the agile project management and software development approach of closely collaborating with the users of the organization. Thus, product managers often use the customers’ feedback and study the current market trends to develop the product portfolio of an organization. They act as consultants and specialists in large corporations and business organizations that have a huge product portfolio. In small organizations like start-ups and local businesses, a product manager oversees the entire product delivery cycle, from the concept to its delivery.

Roles and Responsibilities of a Product Manager

A product manager creates the vision of the product that suits the organization’s objectives. This is achieved through collaboration with the stakeholders of the organization. They manage the product delivery cycle which includes the initial conceptualization of the product or products, the development plan, the execution plan, and the final delivery of the product. Even after the product delivery, a product manager’s roles and responsibilities continue as they monitor the reception of the product in the market. They analyse the feedback from the customers and the revenue the product generates for the organization. Therefore, unlike project management which focuses on the delivery of projects that have a fixed end schedule, product management is an ongoing process.

Here are the roles and responsibilities of a product manager in an organization:

Researching

This includes researching the latest market trends to find out what the customers require from the product or services. This also includes gathering customers’ feedback and analysing it to match the organizational objectives.

Creating the Product Vision

This involves creating the vision of the product that will suit the requirements of the organization and its customers.

Finalizing the Product Vision

This process involves communicating the product vision with the stakeholders of the organization and finalizing it.

Developing the Product Roadmap

Product Managers create the product development roadmap or strategy by collaborating with the product development team.

Maintaining the Product Roadmap

PMs monitor and manage the product roadmap but do not actively participate in the product development. They oversee the product development cycle and clear any obstacles that arise in the process.

A product manager collaborates with cross-functional teams of the organization to achieve a successful product development cycle. They communicate the product roadmap with the engineering, marketing, and customer support department of the organization. This ensures that the product and its features are being communicated with the respective departments to effectively coordinate the final release date. Thus, the final product delivered to the customers, successfully helps the organization attain its goals.

Product Manager vs. Product Owner

In small organizations, a product manager (PM) is often confused with the product owner (PO). Both PM and PO are involved in the product development cycle of an organization. Product Owners are responsible for creating and developing products that add value to their organization which are very similar to that of a product manager in an organization. However, POs are an intrinsic part of agile software development or agile project management. They create the user stories that software developers and product managers use to develop the product vision. POs are responsible for creating product backlogs and epics that bring the product manager’s product vision into actionable plans.

PMs do not actively participate in the product development whereas POs are involved in the minute details of the product development. They also assist the Scrum Master (SM) in the application of agile principles and practices by conducting scrum meetings and monitoring the workflow by following the Kanban methodology. POs help optimize the product development cycle by motivating and communicating with the product development teams of the organization. A product manager and a product owner collaborate in managing the product roadmap. A PM’s roles and responsibilities are long-term as it continues even after the final product delivery whilst a PO’s roles and responsibilities are short-term and end when the product is delivered.

Conclusion

An organization needs to assess its size, structure, maturity, and its adoption of the agile project management methodology to define the roles and responsibilities of product owners and product managers. Often these roles are compressed into a single profile as they share a common goal. This is possible in small organizations with a limited departmental hierarchy. In large organizations, it is important to define the roles and responsibilities of POs and PMs.

Many successful business organizations of our generation like Adobe, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Netflix have defined the product manager position that has helped them transform their product portfolio and make them the market leaders. Also, product managers are ranked third based on salary and job opportunities received as compared to project managers. These rankings are bound to improve when more organizations start adopting the product management methodology in their business operation.

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