Project Manager Vs Product Owner: Key Differences

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07th Jun, 2022
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09th Jun, 2015
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Project Manager Vs Product Owner: Key Differences

For most of us, the role of a Project Manager is quite well defined. But how many of us know the role a project manager plays in an Agile project? Some other questions that often boggle budding Agilists are, exactly how different a product owner is different from a project manager? And are these roles interchangeable? For better differentiation, it is important to understand Project Manager and Product Owner Responsibilities.

This blog is an attempt to help you learn more about the Project Manager Vs Product Owner role and how these two fit into a modern project setting.  

Know more about project description.

Comparison table: Project Manager Vs Product Owner

 Project ManagerProduct Owner
Type of ProjectWaterfallAgile
Accountable forProject ManagementEffective backlog management
OwnsProjectProduct Features
ResponsibilityCoordinationRequirement’s definition
FocusInternalExternal and internal
Stakeholder interactionIs not responsible for effective communication within the project team and with external stakeholdersResponsible for creating a communication link between stakeholders and team
Team supportGuides team on project management tools or configuration managementGuides team on agile tools and processes
QualityIs not responsible for ensuring that the product quality meets user needsResponsible for delivering quality to the end user and guiding teams toward achieving it
FeedbackMakes adjustments in the product vision and strategy according to customer feedback.Makes sure that the decisions made in the organisation are shaped according to the feedback received.
StrategyPlans the goal and makes sure that value is being delivered to the customer. Is responsible for business outcomes and strategic roadmaps. 
Risk Focuses long-term on the ongoing support for product capabilities and value streams. Stays focused on the immediate sprint and release.

Who is a Product Owner?

The product owner is responsible for maximising the product value, representing the stakeholders, prioritizing the backlog, empowering the team, maintaining Agile and Scrum processes and defining the product vision.

In recent times, the Product Owner has become an irreplaceable part of an agile project team. Their worth has been validated by their role in driving product value and enhancing stakeholder satisfaction.

“The product owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the development team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, scrum teams, and individuals.”—Scrum Guide 

What are the responsibilities of a PO, and what do they not handle?

  • The responsibilities of the product owner include: 
  • Managing stakeholders and driving value 
  • Managing effective communication between the development team and stakeholders 
  • Providing the product vision to the development team 
  • Resolving conflicts and managing situations or escalations that may arise with stakeholders or development team members 
  • Prioritising items on the backlog 
  • Guiding the development team on Scrum values, principles and processes  
  • Helping stakeholders understand the value of Scrum 

The role of a Product Manager in a project and interactions with the team

A good product manager can be a boon to a team and conversely a bad product manager can be disastrous to a team. A good product manager can set clear goals, define strategy and help the team to build the right things.  

An effective product manager manages the project and at no point in time transfers the responsibility of managing parts of the project to the development team.  

The development team’s sole focus should be on building a good product. The Product Owner should make sure that the team is proceeding in the right direction and the product is shaping up correctly.  

The product owner plays an important part in the project as the person primarily responsible for prioritizing the scope, cost and deadlines of the product.  

Who is a Project Manager?

Most of us would have at some point in our careers worked under a project manager. A project manager’s role is extensive and includes everything right from successful initiation, planning, design to project closure. 

As projects get more complex and pan global, the need for project managers has grown sharply in the past years, as they, with their expertise and skills are able to steer projects to success.

Project managers are organized, passionate and goal-oriented, understand what projects have in common, and their strategic role in how organizations succeed, learn and change--PMI®

What are the responsibilities of a PM, and what do they not handle?

The responsibilities of a Project Manager include:

  • Planning, organizing, completing a project
  • Financial reporting
  • Developing a project charter
  • Resource management
  • Risk Management
  • Change Management
  • Scheduling
  • Cost Estimation and Budget Development
  • Controlling quality
  • Documentation
  • Tracking performance indicators
  • Vendor management
  • Managing reports and other important documents

A project manager does not

  • Take responsibility for product success or failure
  • Approve resources or funding for the project
  • Work to provide seamless communication between stakeholders and team members
  • Specify the users’ requirements to the team
  • Maintain quality and ensure that the end product meets user needs

The role of a Project Manager in a project and interactions with the team

A project manager is responsible for leading a project from the start till the end, which includes planning, execution, and delivering the project on time, and on schedule and budget. They also have the responsibility to manage the people and resources, and work with the team to make sure that the desired value is being delivered in the correct order.

It is essential that a project manager has a combination of skills, including the ability to ask questions, resolve conflicts, understand unstated assumptions, and manage people around. The project manager as the PMI states is a change agent who ‘makes project goals their own, and use their skills and expertise to inspire a sense of shared purpose within the project team.’

Shared Characteristics and Skills for the PO and the PM

  • Both Product Owners and Project Managers work as change agents
  • They both work towards completing the project and are thus valued members of the project team
  • They both have great communication, conflict resolution and facilitation skills. This skill is paramount for their success as either a product owner or a project manager as they should be able to effectively communicate with stakeholders, team members, users etc
  • They guide team members on processes and techniques to use to reach the final goal
  • They both have a broad toolkit of techniques that they use to steer projects into manageable chunks
  • They both have great people skills and have good organizational skills which come in handy when they have to deal with multiple requirements and projects
  • They are both passionate when it comes to continuous improvement

Responsibilities that overlap: Product Owner vs Project Manager

In many organizations there is a very fine line between the project manager and the product owner. In fact, you may often find one carrying out the responsibilities of the other. These two roles have many responsibilities that overlap.

  • Both the product owner and project manager have the responsibility of steering the team to achieving the goal. This they do by ensuring that the team is on time and within budget and not straying
  • They both lead and work with cross-functional teams and are aligned with the team to ensure product success
  • They both create the product or project roadmap to help the team understand timelines and scope
  • They both make sure that priorities are aligned
  • They are both involved through the life cycle of the project
  • They both have to deal with the Iron Triangle’s elements of Time, Budget and Scope
  • Both have to ensure and focus on return on investment and can discontinue the project if it does not meet the projected profits

Project Manager Vs. Product Owner

  1. Product Vision: A Product Owner articulates the needs of a customer and acts as their voice for the product vision. A Project Manager acts as a curator of the product vision while representing the sponsors and stakeholders.
  2. Managing resources: While the project manager gets down to the minutest details of creating, managing and allocating work to the team members, the product owner does not have to do this. The Product Owner maintains the product backlog which outlines the scope of work. The self-organized development team, in turn, uses the product backlog as a guide to take up work and ensure deliverables.  
  3. Day-to-day activity: The day-to-day activity of the project manager involves keeping an eye on the time, budget and scope and making sure everything is on track. Controlling the time, budget and scope is the main responsibility of the Project Manager while a Product Owner’s primary responsibility is to maximize value.

Conclusion

 

The roles of a Product Owner overlaps that of the Project Manager. However, a Product Owner is authorized to work on prioritisation according to requirements, having domain expertise. Project Managers don’t have the authority to do so.   

Apart from this, Product Owners lack the required project management skills. Hence, it can be said that a Product Owner is a Project Manager who is responsible for delegating the project team to a Scrum Master, while at the same time is responsible for the success of the project and project environment. 

Which one is better for me?

Which one is better for you depends on your current role, your aspirations and your educational background. With either of these roles, getting certified is a safe bet to ensure ample opportunities and a lucrative career.  

The Project Management Professional Certification (PMP)® for Project Managers and Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO®) credential for Product Owners are apt certifications for these two roles.

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Usha Sunil

Blog Author

Writing is Usha's hobby and passion. She has written widely on topics as diverse as training, finance, HR and marketing, and is now into technical writing and education. She keeps an interested eye on new trends in technology, and is currently on a mission to find out what makes the world go around.