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Product Owner vs. Product Manager: Key Differences

The roles of Product Owner and Product Manager can cause a lot of confusion. After all, the titles are super similar! But the reality is far from that. In this post, we'll break down the key differences between them once and for all.

Product Management
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The differences between product owners and product managers.

For many, Product Owners (POs) and Product Managers (PMs) can feel like the same thing. Even the names make it seem like they have the same job (or at least a very similar one). 

But the reality is that these two roles are very different.

In this post, we’ll look at the similarities and differences between Product Owners and Product Managers. We’ll cover everything from definitions to tools that each role uses to manage the product. 

Let’s get started!


Product Owner vs. Product Manager: key differences

There are tons of important differences between POs and PMs. So, before we dive into the main discussion, let’s quickly summarize a few of the most important:

1. Focus

Product Owners (POs) have an execution focus. They’re not usually super involved in the high-level strategy aspect of product development. Instead, they’re responsible for executing the current sprint and making sure all deliverables are high-quality and aligned with larger goals.

Product Managers (PMs) have a more strategic focus. They need to understand the market, competition, and customers to create a product vision and roadmap. They’re responsible for making strategic decisions that support company goals.

2. Day-to-Day Responsibilities

POs tend to have technical and managerial day-to-day responsibilities. They work closely with engineers to make sure that the product is being built according to specs and timelines. They also manage the backlog, prioritize work, and update the roadmap.

PMs have a broader set of responsibilities. They define and communicate the product strategy, manage cross-functional teams, and drive decision-making processes. They also need to oversee marketing and sales efforts, analytics, and customer success (to an extent). This involves conducting market research, analyzing data and metrics, setting performance targets, and communicating with stakeholders.

3. Key Skills

Both roles require excellent communication skills and strong analytical and problem-solving abilities. 

POs need a strong technical background. They should be familiar with Agile methodologies and have a good understanding of the product development process. They also need to be organized and detail-oriented.

PMs also need technical knowledge but at a higher level. They need to have a deep understanding of technology trends, as well as business acumen and market knowledge. Plus, they should be able to lead teams effectively, manage budgets, and make strategic decisions based on analysis.

Here’s a table summarizing these differences, along with a bunch of others:

Aspect Product Owner Product Manager
Overview Works within a team, often in Agile frameworks.
Focuses on maximizing the product value delivered by the development team.
A strategic role overseeing the product lifecycle from conception to launch and beyond. Balances business, technology, and user needs.
Focus Execution-focused. Ensures high-quality deliverables during current sprints. Strategy-focused. Develops product vision and roadmap while making strategic decisions aligned with company goals.
Day-to-Day Responsibilities - Manages engineers
- Plans work for sprints
- Grooms backlog
- Prioritizes tasks
- Ensures quality
- Defines strategy
- Leads cross-functional teams
- Oversees marketing/sales
- Manages analytics and customer success
Key Skills Strong technical background, familiarity with Agile methodologies, organizational skills, and attention to detail. Deep technical and market knowledge, business acumen, leadership skills, budgeting, and data analysis.
Team Collaboration Works closely with the development team to clarify requirements and ensure expected features are delivered. Collaborates with cross-functional teams to align marketing, sales, support, and finance strategies.
Stakeholder Communication Primarily interacts with developers, occasionally with other stakeholders for information gathering. Interacts regularly with VPs, executives, and clients to report progress and gather insights.
Decision-Making Prioritizes backlog and user stories based on business value, dependencies, and customer needs. Makes strategic decisions affecting product direction, market positioning, and business impact.
Tools - Project management tools
- Collaboration tools
- User feedback tools (like Featurebase)
- Analytics tools
- Project management tools
- Roadmapping tools (like Featurebase)

What is a product owner?

The Product Owner (PO) role is a “boots on the ground” position. 

They work closely with the development team to make sure the product is progressing according to the team's vision and the company’s goals. They also interact with key stakeholders like customers, executives, and other departments to gather information for user stories.

POs deliver value by executing successful sprints and deliverables.

Key responsibilities

  • Backlog grooming: POs are responsible for grooming the backlog to make sure that it contains relevant, well-defined work. They also need to add new items to the backlog by drawing from user feedback tools, customer service tools, and other sources.
  • User stories & acceptance criteria: POs create user stories to guide development by gathering key details from stakeholders. They also define the acceptance criteria that describe what a finished feature looks like.
  • Prioritization and decision-making: POs are responsible for prioritizing the backlog based on business value, technical dependencies, and customer needs. They’re also responsible for developing prioritization frameworks and monitoring their success.
  • Team leadership: POs lead their teams by setting clear goals, communicating expectations, and fostering collaboration and accountability among team members. They also lead (or at least facilitate) meetings like daily standups and retros.
  • Quality assurance: POs are the final decision-makers on whether a feature or product is ready to be released. They are responsible for ensuring that the end result meets the high-quality standards set by the team.
  • Feedback management: POs are also responsible for closing the feedback loop with users. They do this by regularly updating the roadmap and changelog and collecting and analyzing user feedback to inform development.

Tools

Product Owners tend to benefit from a wide range of tools, including:

  • Project management tools: Tools like Jira and Linear let POs manage team capacity, visualize progress, and track milestones.
  • Collaboration tools: Tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams allow POs to communicate with team members, share updates and documents, and facilitate remote collaboration.
  • Prototyping tools: Tools like Figma or InVision allow POs to create mockups and prototypes of their product ideas for testing and feedback.
  • User feedback tools: User feedback tools like Featurebase let POs collect user feedback at scale, analyze it for insights, create public and private roadmaps, publish changelogs, and automate notifications.
Featurebase's public feedback portal.
User feedback tool - Featurebase

What is a product manager?

A Product Manager (PM) is like an architect. 

They’re responsible for looking into the future to see what the product could become, and charting a course (in broad strokes) of how to get there. They also must be able to switch gears between the big picture and the smallest details, from product strategy to roadmapping.

Key responsibilities

  • Setting product vision: PMs define and communicate the product vision. They consolidate things like market opportunities, customer needs and business goals into an inspiring, viable identity for the product. 
  • Product lifecycle management: PMs oversee the product lifecycle from start to finish (and everything in between). They guide ideation, development, launch, and phase-out with data-driven insights.
  • Roadmap planning: PMs develop and maintain product roadmaps to communicate the"whats," "whens," and "whys" of product initiatives to teams. They then hand these over to POs, who are responsible for sticking to them whenever possible and adjusting course as needed.
  • Analysis: PMs spend a lot of time analyzing things like customer satisfaction, market trends, and product performance. They use this data to inform their strategies and recommendations.
  • Budgeting: PMs are also typically responsible for managing the product budget. They might not be the one who sets it, but they are typically responsible for deciding what to spend it on and how much.
  • Communicating with stakeholders: PMs are usually in charge of communicating with non-technical stakeholders like executives or investors. They need to be able to translate technical progress and details into the languages of these groups.

Tools

Once again, there are a wide range of tools that PMs rely on:

  • Product analytics tools: Things like heatmaps, user behavior tracking, and A/B testing tools are essential for PMs to understand how their product is performing.
  • Project management software: PMs usually rely on the same tools as POs for organizing and managing tasks, schedules, and teams.
  • Collaboration tools: Since PMs work closely with cross-functional teams, they need tools like Slack or Teams that make communication simple.
  • Roadmapping tools: Tools like Featurebase help PMs plan out the development roadmap for their product, including features, releases, and milestones.
Featurebase's public roadmap feature.
Public roadmap made with Featurebase.

Can a Product Owner Also Be a Product Manager?

Clearly, these are very different roles. But are they so different that one person can’t do both? 

The short answer? No. But it isn’t ideal.

For starters, it’s important to mention that there’s actually quite a bit of overlap between these two roles in areas like:

  • Stakeholder communication
  • User research
  • Analysis

However, most teams choose to separate these roles because they have different focuses. Each has enough scope and workload to be considered a full-time job.

Ideally, the PO and PM work together, using each other’s strengths and insights for the long-term success of the product. They combine the PO's focus on backlog management and iterative goals with the PM's broader view of the market and strategy to create a cohesive product lifecycle from vision to delivery.

That said, there are a few scenarios where one person can handle both roles:

Scenarios where one person can handle both roles

  • Small teams: If you have a team of 5 or fewer, having a PO and PM may not be needed since day-to-day management is fairly simple.
  • Experienced individuals: If you have someone with experience in both roles and capable of handling the workload, they may be able to take on both positions.
  • Startups: In the early stages of a startup company, resources may be limited, and there may not be enough budget to hire separate PO and PM roles. In this situation, one person may have to take on both roles.

How Featurebase helps align POs and PMs

Featurebase is not just another tool. It bridges the gap between POs and PMs. Our platform supports organized, user-centric development by making it easy for anyone to understand users, analyze their requests, create detailed roadmaps, and communicate updates.

Featurebase is best for:

  • Centralized feedback collection: This functionality is essential for both PO and PMs to understand user needs and preferences. We offer a seamless user feedback portal that users can access without logging in, along with feedback widgets for in-app suggestions and bug reports (with screenshots).
  • Private and public roadmaps: Featurebase lets POs and PMs collaborate on private and public roadmaps to guide development. You can pull suggestions directly from your users and automatically notify them when their suggestions are planned.
Featurebase's public roadmap feature.
Public roadmap made with Featurebase.
  • Prioritizing feature requests: Featurebase includes tools for prioritization. Feature voting is a great way to get a quick estimate of user demand. Plus, you can see how much MRR is attached to suggestions, which suggestions come from your most important users, and even create effort-value matrices.
Sorting feedback by uvpoter revenue contribution in Featurebase.
Sorting feedback by upvoters' revenue contribution.
  • Announcements: Featurebase lets you communicate product updates easily. You can do it through in-app popups, widgets, and emails. Both roles can use these features to keep users informed about new features and changes, closing the feedback loop and building trust.
Featurebase's automated product update email to users.
Featurebase's automated product update email to users.

Conclusion

The roles of PO and PM are distinct, yet complementary within product management. 

The PO focuses on day-to-day aspects of product development. They ensure that each iteration meets the project's immediate needs. The PM takes a broader view. They strategize the product’s lifecycle and align it with long-term business goals. 

Both roles need a deep understanding of market needs. They also need a clear vision for the product and the ability to communicate well with stakeholders.

To maximize the synergy between these two key roles, consider adding a tool Featurebase to your product management stack. Our platform streamlines communication, enhances strategic planning, and makes sure both roles have the ability to understand user needs.

Start managing your product backlog with Featurebase for free →