Project Management

Product Manager vs Product Owner vs Project Manager

Dovile Miseviciute ·

Passionate content marketer looking to bring better solutions to the project management space. 2020 - Present Marketing specialist at Teamhood. 2014 - 2020 Marketing manager for Eylean.

product owner vs project manager

When it comes to projects, most are looking for the perfect tools and practices to do the job.

However, choosing the right people to lead those projects is just as important. You have pick to someone that is both capable and willing to take on the responsibilities given to them. Thus, you must understand what it entails before picking the person for each job.

Arguably some of the most important roles in projects are the leading ones. However, there is still some confusion in understanding the differences between Product Manager vs Product Owner vs Project Manager. Often, people think these roles are the same and fail to use their full potential.

Keep on reading to make sure this does not happen to you. And find out the key purpose behind each role and their differences.

product manager vs product owner vs project manager

Definition – Product Manager vs Product Owner vs Project Manager

To start, let’s first learn the definitions for the three roles.

Product Manager – A Product Manager acts as a linchpin between business strategy, customer demands, and technical execution, crafting a product vision that aligns with company objectives. They orchestrate cross-functional teams, prioritize features based on customer value, and make strategic decisions to develop a valuable and competitive product that resonates with the market.

Product Owner The Product Owner in Scrum acts as the customer advocate, translating their needs into prioritized tasks for the Scrum Team. They define and manage the Product Backlog, ensuring alignment with the product vision and refining requirements into actionable user stories.

Through continuous communication and decision-making, the Product Owner guides the team in delivering incremental value, ultimately driving the product’s success and responsiveness to customer feedback.

Project Manager – A Project Manager takes charge of the day-to-day operations, closely executing the product vision with the project team to ensure smooth progress. Their hands-on role involves task coordination, resource management, risk mitigation, and effective communication, ensuring that the project stays on track and successfully translates the vision into actionable steps.

Now that we have a rough understanding of the three roles let’s see what is entailed in their execution.

What is a Product Manager?

A Product Manager is a person responsible for the entire product lifecycle. It is their job to bridge the gap between engineers, sales/marketing, and customers to provide a clear path on where the product should be going.

The exact definition of this role may differ from one company to another, but it always stays focused on the final product.

Usually, the Product Manager focuses on researching their customer needs, competitor products and setting a strategy for building the most beneficial product. In most organizations, this role has quite a lot of power in the decision-making process and thus shapes the organizational path.

Many Product Managers are promoted to this role by ascending from the organization itself. As such, they can use their skills from the previous position to make the most optimized decisions. In large organizations, it is also common to see several product managers, each dedicated to specific niches.

The most common divisions dedicate separate people to growth, technical, or platform product management, which gives the benefit of taking better control over large projects.

Product Manager responsibilities

The main responsibilities of a Product Manager are:

  1. Setting the strategy. This is the primary responsibility of the Product Manager that involves coming up with the product vision, explaining the business case to the team, and aligning the budget to meet the product goals.
  2. Understanding the user. Product Managers are the user’s voices in the organization and thus have to have a good grasp of what the users want. This is done through customer interviews, testing, and research and helps build a better product.
  3. Planning the work. Another important responsibility of the Product Manager lies in planning. It is up to him or her to translate the strategy into a specific plan of what must be achieved and when. It is also up to the Product manager to align all teams toward this goal.
  4. Curating suggestions. The Product Manager collects all ideas about possible improvements to ensure your product grows and evolves correctly. They must evaluate what has been suggested and decide what will be added to the Product Backlog and executed.
  5. Prioritizing. As mentioned above, the Product Manager curates the Product Backlog. It is up to them to decide what features should be prioritized and which should wait. This is done based on the overall project goals and potential value each feature can bring to the customers.
  6. Analyzing and adapting. Lastly, no plan is good if it is not implemented right. Thus, the Product Manager is also responsible for analyzing the process, how previous changes improved the product, and what could be changed in the future. More on how to improve process efficiency.

Common misconceptions about what Product Managers should do

Companies often see little difference between Project Manager vs. Product Manager, which is an issue.

Product Managers focus on strategic planning and product vision, translating customer needs into a roadmap, while Project Managers oversee day-to-day execution, ensuring tasks are completed on time and resources are allocated efficiently.

Combining these roles risks diluting expertise or diverting focus from strategic planning, potentially compromising product quality and timely delivery. Maintaining separate roles ensures a balanced approach, optimizing both strategic direction and effective project management.

Certifications and salary

There is no specific product management certification everyone interested in the role should take. Instead, there are many. The role, just like the market, is continuously changing; thus, it is important to continue learning throughout your career. If you are just starting, picking a product management fundamentals course is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the job.

And as you continue in the field, you should always be looking to learn new things, as that helps build your confidence and business knowledge.

Some of the most popular courses are Product School’s Product Management Certification Programs, AIPMM Certified Product Manager Credential, Product Manager Certification (Pragmatic Institute), and others.

Average pay: $111,150 a year in the United States, £52,442 a year in the United Kingdom.

product maager vs product owner

What is a Product Owner?

Product Owner is a role usually found in the Scrum framework. The core purpose of this role is to maximize product value. This is achieved by deciding what the Scrum Team should work on and when, which is reflected in the Product Backlog.

The role of the Product Owner carries many similarities to the one of the Product Manager. They must communicate the customer’s voice, set the product vision, and collaborate with various stakeholders to execute that vision.

However, this role also carries some of the Project Manager’s responsibilities since they have to actively participate in Sprint Planning and Sprint Review to monitor the team’s progress.

It is important to remember that while the Product Owner is included in some of the Scrum team’s activities, they are not in charge of that team. They are merely there to support the team and guide them on what is the most important and how to build the best possible product.

Product Owner responsibilities

Here is more on the responsibilities of the Product Owner.

  1. Developing and communicating the Product Goal. It is up to the Product Owner to evaluate the current product and decide how it will be developed further. By communicating with stakeholders and doing research, they are responsible for setting a clear path for the Scrum Team.
  2. Creating and prioritizing the Product Backlog items. Having the main goal in mind, the Product Owner creates and prioritizes the Product Backlog for the Scrum Team. They decide which items will add the most value in the next Sprint and mark them as the highest priority.
  3. Collaborating with the team, customer, and other stakeholders. To understand where the product should be going, the Product Owner has to be great at communicating with various parties. This includes talking to customers, stakeholders, and the Scrum Team and representing their ideas to each other.
  4. Assisting the Scrum Team. Lastly, while the Product Owner is not in charge of the Scrum Team, they must assist them. The PO assists the team in User Story development and participates in Sprint Planning and Review.

Common misconceptions about what Product Owners should do

The most common mistake is thinking that there is no difference between the Product Owner and vs Project Manager. Many teams moving away from traditional project management practices like Waterfall assume the Product Owner is the team leader.

While in reality, the Product Owner role is much more similar to the Product Manager.

While the Scrum Team is a self-sufficient group of people that is able to execute work on their own. The Product Owner is not there to manage the team but to guide them in creating the most valuable product.

Certifications and salary

The two main certifications for Product Owners are CSPO (Certified Scrum Product Owner) and PSPO (Professional Scrum Product Owner). There are various other certifications, but these two are considered the most reliable ones.

Average pay: $98,926 a year in the United States, £51,928 a year in the United Kingdom.

product owner vs project manager

What is a Project Manager?

A Project Manager is a person responsible for executing projects within the set time, budget, and scope. Contrary to the two previous roles, they are focused on implementing the project vision with the project team and delivering the result.

The Project Manager’s job is to translate the larger organizational goals into an actionable plan that can be achieved with the project team. As such, they usually go through the stages of initiating, planning, executing, monitoring, and closing the project. This is the most hands-on and present-oriented role out of the three.

The Project Manager role is also one of the most versatile. To successfully lead your team, you must be a team player, leader, and supervisor. While also having various skills for planning, executing, solving issues, and leading the project through all of the ups and downs. The Project Manager is the person responsible for executing the company goals and ensuring the project’s success.

Project Manager Responsibilities

Project Manager responsibilities may vary according to the project and company size. However, they can be summarized into these points.

  1. Developing the project plan. The Project Manager is responsible for turning company goals into an actionable plan that a team can execute. They have to determine what must be done, how many people should do it, and what resources they need.
  2. Setting the project schedule. Once the project is approved, the Project Manager has to determine how much time it will need. They have to plan out the project on a Timeline and ensure the team follows as closely as possible.
  3. Managing the team. The Project Manager is the one person responsible for ensuring the team performs the project tasks. As such, they must delegate work, set deadlines, manage the workload, and aid their team members if any issues arise.
  4. Dealing with project constraints and conflicts. All projects are defined with time, budget, and scope constraints. It is up to the project manager to ensure the team stays within these constraints or adjust the project plans if any of them are exceeded. It is also the Project manager’s responsibility to solve any conflicts that arise during the project.
  5. Communicating with all stakeholders. Lastly, to successfully run any project, the Project manager has to be a communication wizard. They are responsible for keeping the communication flowing throughout all of the interested parties and often have to find ways to adapt their communication style to various people.

Common misconceptions about what Project Managers should do

The role of the Project Manager encompasses a lot of different skills and responsibilities. (We only listed the main ones above) As such, the most common misconception about Project Managers is thinking they should only do planning or workload management. While in larger organizations, there might be several people working on leading the project, which has divided the responsibilities. This is not the case in most projects.

When we think about Product Manager vs Project Manager, the latter role requires a lot more versatility and the ability to change focus depending on the project stage. It is not focused on just one aspect of it but rather on the whole execution from start to finish.

Certifications and salary

Project Manager is the most diverse role out of the three. Thus, the selection of certifications is also larger. Here are a few of the main certificates to consider for this role – PMP (Project Management Professional), CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management), PMI-PBA (PMI Professional in Business Analysis), and more.

Average pay: $87,349 a year in the United States, £45,969 yearly in the United Kingdom.

product owner vs project manager

Product Manager vs. Product Owner vs. Project Manager shared characteristics

We can find the biggest similarities when comparing Product Manager vs Product Owner. Both of these roles work on delivering the best final product for their customers. For that, they have to communicate with stakeholders, represent the customer’s voice, and have a close relationship with the team. They are also responsible for creating and prioritizing the action plan for the company and thus ensuring the teams are always working on the most valuable items.

Product Manager vs. Product Owner vs. Project Manager differences

The biggest differences in these roles are seen when comparing Product Manager vs. Project Manager or Product Owner vs Project Manager. The product roles are focused on setting the vision of where the company or the product should be heading, while the Project Manager’s role is focused on executing this vision with a team. It is a hands-on role that requires executing projects from start to finish.

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When discussing Product Manager vs. Product Owner vs. Project manager, it is important to understand that each role carries specific functions and benefits. By understanding their differences and similarities, you can distinguish them from each other and successfully pick who should be involved in your next meeting.

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