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Product Manager vs. Product Owner: What am I!?

Ahhh the age-old question. Am I a Product Owner or a Product Manager? Almost since the dawn of time (2001 for us internet tech folks) people have been confused about the difference between these two roles.


They sound the same. They seem to both work in tech. But are they the same??


The answer is no.


So let’s dig into the latest understanding so we can finally get some clarity!


Product Manager vs. Product Owner: Let's Start With The Owner


If you search for the definition of either of these two roles, you will get as many definitions as there are search results. Think in the millions. No wonder the industry is so confused about these two roles!


Let’s start with the Product Owner as defined by the originators of the role: The Scrum Guide. This guide began to be formulated in 2001, when seventeen software engineers authored the Agile Manifesto as a more flexible and iterative way to develop software. No more building for a year, releasing, then learning the product failed. They preferred developing in small increments and learning as they went.


The Scrum Guide defines the Product Owner as the person who “is accountable for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Scrum Team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, Scrum Teams, and individuals. The Product Owner is also accountable for effective Product Backlog management, which includes:

  • Developing and explicitly communicating the Product Goal

  • Creating and clearly communicating Product Backlog items

  • Ordering Product Backlog items

  • Ensuring that the Product Backlog is transparent, visible and understood.


As you can see, the Product Owner is responsible for value, but is primarily working with the Scrum Team and is highly tied to backlog management.


what makes a great product manager

What About the Product Manager?


Product Management started in the 1930s in marketing and advertising. The “brand man” was responsible for the entire success of a brand from sales to managing the product and promotions. This evolved to HP creating a “Product Manager” role that is the voice of the customer internally while Toyota started bringing continuous improvement practices to its product manufacturing. At HP, the Product Manager was responsible for the success of their product, including developing, manufacturing, and marketing. Product Managers are now leading products at every major technology company including Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and more.


Today, we define Product Managers as being at the heart of innovation and growth. They identify a customer need and business objective to achieve. They articulate what success looks like and how success can be measured. They empower cross-functional teams to bring that vision to reality through products, services, and people.


At the core, Product Management is about customer-centricity, outcomes, and team empowerment.


Product Manager vs. Product Owner: The Major Differences


Based on these two definitions, it’s easy to see why there is so much confusion. They both are seeking successful products but in different ways.


Product Management was born from Marketing and Product Ownership was born from software development. Herein, in our opinion, lies the core difference between Product Management and Product Ownership.


Product Ownership is more delivery-focused.


Product Management is more market-focused.


Both want to create value. But Product Ownership is more focused on collaboration with the team and HOW it’s built, while Product Management is more focused on WHO, WHAT and WHY.

So if you’re in a role that is more market-facing, strategic, and research-based, you are likely a Product Manager.


If you are spending time with the development team every day, defining the backlog, and running sprints, you are likely a Product Owner.


learn skills to become a great product manager

Product Management vs. Product Ownership in Practice


Of course, there are a lot of grey areas here. Many companies don’t hire both Product Managers and Product Owners. If there’s only one, what am I?


If you are the only Product Manager or Product Owner at your company, this becomes tricky. Do you focus more on the how with your team, or the who what and why out in the market?


We recommend becoming a Product Manager and focusing on the who, what, and why. In our experience, if teams are motivated and empowered with clear context of the problem, they can manage their own backlogs and work. This will free you to focus more on the strategic work that makes a huge difference to your product.


So there you have it. We hope this helped clarify Product Management vs. Product Ownership! Be sure let us know your thoughts on this age-old debate in the comments.


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