• Project management
  • by Jakub Szczęsny
  • 03/10/2019

Project Manager vs Product Owner – what is the difference?

Project Manager vs Product Owner – this question posed on the basis of a comparison is very common in the context of projects in the software industry. Although the two positions (or roles) are confused with each other, they cannot be considered in the same categories. In this text you will find out why.

Project Manager vs Product Owner

It is worth starting with definitions for both of these positions. In some companies or organizations, the roles of a Project Manager and a Product Owner are used interchangeably. This is not a good practice and it should be avoided, especially if the company processes are Agile. This helps to avoid misunderstandings about roles that belong to a Product Owner or to a Project Manager.

Who is a Project Manager?

A Project Manager is a specialist who manages specific projects in a company. Currently, this position is gaining more and more interest among entrepreneurs who want to achieve the best goals. The Project Manager is responsible for project planning and implementation – his job is often related to construction, computer networks, telecommunication networks, software development, as well as production and the service sector.

The main responsibilities of the Project Manager include team management and coordination of the activities of persons cooperating in a given project. Other responsibilities are: planning and implementing the strategy of activities, drawing up business plans, qualitative and quantitative analysis of the market, analysis of the competition and the management of available resources.

In addition to that, the Project Manager supervises ensuring compliance of procedures and other activities required by law. He has to streamline processes (e.g. budgeting, reporting), prepare periodic and final reports, actively cooperate with other employees, a Project Manager should promote innovation and change. That’s not everything, Project Managers have to negotiate and cooperate with companies and sub-suppliers, they also work very close with the management board and conduct presentations and trainings on the project. He/she should also have appropriate interpersonal skills and be the “link” between the company and the entity for which the project is being implemented.

Project Manager – highlights:

  • The Project Manager is directly responsible for the team and communicates the most with everyone
  • The person in this position is responsible for settling hours, allocating resources and creating processes that will be used in the project.
  • The Project Manager is responsible for the project-specific strategy
  • The Project Manager “limits” the assumed budget – he is responsible for not exceeding it. The Product Owner, on the other hand, focuses primarily on the development of the product.
  • A Project Manager must have a variety of skills, e.g.: he or she must be able to analyse the market accurately.

We already know who the Project Manager is – we also know the general outline of his duties. If you want to learn more about the roles and tasks of the Project Manager – take a look at a special text on this subject:

Roles and responsibilities of a Project Managerthis is what you need to know

Who is a Product Owner?

A comparison of the definitions of Product Manager and Product Owner will be crucial to identify specific differences. It is worth to get acquainted with the second definition:

The Product Owner is one of the three roles in the Scrum Team. While working, he represents the client (he can be part of his company or act as an external consultant), so his task is to ensure that the value of the product that’s developed will be as high as possible.

The Project Owner decides what should be implemented during the next work phase and when the next iteration should be completed. During his work, the Product Owner collects all the needs reported by the stakeholders and then, based on them, creates a full description of the requirements, which he then passes on to the Development Team. It is also the responsibility of the Product Owner to accept the effects of the work. The most important responsibilities of the Product Owner include running and managing the Product Backlog.

The Product Owner is therefore the “voice of the customer” in projects carried out under the influence of Agile methodologies. He doesn’t have to be a member of the client’s team (although he should be because then the Product Owner will understand the idea of the product and will make wise decisions) and he is the “link” between the client and the Development Team. To put it simply: the basic task of the Product Owner is to manage the Product Backlog in such a way as to meet all the client’s expectations. He/she consults with the client the steps taken by the team and implements possible changes if they occur between iterations.

Product Owner – highlights:

  • The Product Owner is responsible for the decisions made on the client side,
  • He is responsible for the implementation of the customer product vision, he creates tasks and presents them to the Development Team,
  • The Product Owner manages primarily the Product Backlog, it is its main tool at work (but not the only one),
  • Product Owner focuses on details and the general outline of the project,
  • The Product Owner should be a formal member of the company to which the product ultimately belongs.

Project Manager vs Product Owner – what is the difference?

By reading the definitions of Product Manager and Product Owner again and again, you get the impression that there are more differences than you previously thought. In fact, the Project Manager role is a position where business analysis is of great importance. This employee is therefore a much more “independent” member of the team, has greater autonomy and a role that includes much more competence. Apart from planning the work of the team and its evaluation, he or she is also responsible for the direction that will be chosen during its implementation.

The Product Owner, on the other hand, is a position for a person who, above all, is “able to listen” and has great ability to identify customer needs and then implement them. He is not without reason called the “link” between the client and the project team. The ultimate success of the project depends on whether the Product Owner is able to plan the work of the Development Team in a proper way.

In short, you can say that “The Product Owner sets the objectives for the product and the Project Manager does not interact closely with the product (team / work), but ensures that the work process proceeds smoothly”. This approach is not only about the nature of the work on both jobs, but it’s also about the competence of these professionals.

“Project Manager vs. Product Owner” is a very important issue that is not fully understood by everyone. Most often, there are answers that compare these two positions in the context of a business approach: a Project Manager will always have more to say in business matters, while a Product Owner is a person more focused on the customer and his needs.

Ultimately, the Project Manager is responsible for the business analysis of the project, he indicates the available resources and must create a perfect outline of the market situation and recognize competitors and the way they work. He sets goals that should be achieved by the team and makes sure that the developed project is a measurable value for the company.

The Product Owner is responsible for identifying goals for a specific product and implementing the customer needs during the project implementation. The Development Team distributes the tasks that the Product Owner gave them. The person in this position is not responsible for the management of the Development Team, he defines the goals and needs and inscribes them in the Product Backlog in an ordered way (from most valuable to least valuable ones).

Project Manager vs Product Owner – in a nutshell

  • Both roles require strong interpersonal skills, both interact with people and ensure that the best results are achieved,
  • The Project Manager focuses on the team, while the Product Owner needs to have a broader vision of the product,
  • The Project Manager is responsible for cost management, while the Product Owner is responsible for prioritizing work,
  • The Project Manager pays special attention to deadlines, while the Product Owner first of all strives to create a product as expected by the customers,
  • The Project Manager is oriented towards the team he supervises. The Product Owner, on the other hand, is always product-oriented.

Once again, a Product Manager is not a Product Owner. And vice versa

As you can see, although Project Managers and Product Owners have similar competences in certain areas, the nature of their work differs significantly. Product Owners and Project Managers should not be used interchangeably in any company. Understanding the roles and responsibilities of these positions is the key to better use the skills of people in these positions. Arrangement of processes and unambiguous determination of the scope of responsibilities will allow to achieve better results in all projects.

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Jakub Szczęsny

PR / Marketing Specialist at Concise Software. Author of one of the largest technology websites in Poland - Antyweb

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