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, before picking the person for each job, you have to understand what it entails.
Arguably some of the most important roles in projects are the leading ones. However, there is still some confusion understanding the differences between Product Manager vs Product Owner vs Project Manager. Oftentimes people tend to 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.
Definition – Product Manager vs Product Owner vs Project Manager
To start, let’s first learn the definitions for the three roles.
Product Manager – is a person that has to connect business strategy, customer needs, and product building knowledge to build the most valuable product for the market. They are responsible for setting the company strategy and course.
Product Owner – communicates the voice of the customer to the Scrum Team and prioritizes the Product Backlog. Product Owners work to translate the product vision into detailed requirements and tasks for the Scrum Team.
Project Manager – manages the project on a day-to-day basis. They focus on executing the product vision with the project team and ensuring everything runs smoothly on the daily basis. This is the most hands-on role out of the three.
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 on how to build 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 all dedicated to specific niches. The most common divisions are dedicating 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 lays 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 towards this goal.
4 – Curating suggestions. To make sure your product grows and evolves in the right way, the Product Manager collects all ideas about possible improvements. It is up to them to evaluate what has been suggested and decide what will be added to the Product Backlog and executed.
5 – Prioritizing. As mentioned above, it is the Product Manager that 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.
Common misconceptions on what Product Manager should do
In many cases, companies see little difference in Project Manager vs Product Manager, which is an issue. Product Manager is a role created for strategic planning and research, while the Project Manager should focus on executing the work with a team. Putting these two roles into one runs the risk of giving too much responsibility to one person or taking away the decision power from the Product Manager altogether.
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, and thus it is important to continue learning throughout your career. If you are just starting, it is a good idea to pick a product management fundamentals course to get familiar with what the job entails. 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 as follows – 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.
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 the product value. This is achieved by deciding what the Scrum Team should work on and when. Which is then reflected in the Product Backlog.
The role of the Product Owner carries many similarities to the one of the Product Manager. They have to 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 responsibilities. Since they have to actively participate in Sprint Planning and Sprint Review to monitor the team’s progress.
It is important to remember though, 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 have a good grasp on where the product should be going, the Product Owner has to be great at communicating with various parties. This includes talking to customers, stakeholders, 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 have to assist them. The PO assist the team in User Story development, participates in Sprint Planning and Review.
Common misconceptions on what Product Owner should do
The most common mistake is thinking that there is no difference between Product Owner 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 as well, but these two are considered to be the most reliable ones.
Average pay: $98,926 a year in the United States, £51,928 a year in the United Kingdom.
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.
It is the job of the Project Manager 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 have to be a team player, leader, and supervisor all at once. While also having a variety of 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 the project and company size. However, they can be summarized into these points.
1 – Developing the project plan. The Project Manager is responsible for taking company goals and turning them into an actionable plan that can be executed by a team. They have to determine what has to be done, how many people should do it, and what resources they will 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 their team performs the project tasks. As such, they have to delegate work, set deadlines, manage the workload, and aid their team members in case any issues arise.
4 – Dealing with the project constraints and conflicts. All projects are defined with the three project constraints – time, budget, and scope. 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 Managers’ 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 on what Project Manager 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 stage of the project. 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 a year in the United Kingdom.
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 on where the company or the product should be heading, while the Project Managers role is focused on executing this vision with a team. It is a hands-on role that requires executing projects from start to finish.
When talking about Product Manager vs Product Owner vs Project manager, it is important to understand that each of these roles carry specific functions and benefits. By understanding their differences and similarities, you will be able to distinguish them from each other and successfully pick who should be involved in your next meeting.
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.