Product School

What is Product Owner in Product Management?

A Product Owner bridges the gap between the Product Manager's strategic vision and the development team's implementation. They make sure that the product development process focuses on delivering customer value and aligns with product goals and business objectives.

Product Owner vs Product Manager

What is a Product Owner?

The Product Owner works closely with the Product Manager, focusing on short-term fulfillment and guiding the development team in translating the Product Manager's vision into actionable tasks.

The Product Owner is explicitly accountable for:

  1. Maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the development team

  2. Effective Product Backlog management

A Product Owner's responsibilities include:

  • Product backlog tasks: If you’re a Product Owner, the product backlog is the center of your focus. Though you may delegate backlog-related tasks, you’re responsible for how the backlog is created, organized, and communicated. The other responsibilities you have support the product backlog, helping you define high-priority tasks and communicate them to the development team.

  • Being the customer's voice: The customer isn’t in development meetings, but you are. And you’ve talked with customers. You know what makes them tick, and more importantly, what their needs are. As Product Owner, it’s your job to act as the customer’s voice and speak up to guide the development team to a product that meets customer requirements.

  • Generating user stories: As the link between customers and developers, Product Owners also get to create user stories. Listen to customer feedback and translate it into user stories that the development team can work on! When you describe the value of your product or feature from the user’s perspective in an engaging, easily understandable way, it’s easier for your developers to understand why it’s a priority.

  • Collaborating with the Product Manager: In many ways, the Product Owner is the Product Manager’s sidekick. You’re there to make their lives easier. While the Product Manager handles the overall product strategy, you’ll coordinate closely with them, providing feedback on the product roadmap and aligning the development efforts accordingly.

  • Aligning with the Product Roadmap: Where strategy meets execution. It’s the Product Owner’s job to make sure that backlog items follow the product roadmap created by the Product Manager. This way, the development team works on the right tasks, in the right order, in a way that’s aligned with the big-picture Product Strategy. 

What’s the Difference Between a Product Owner and a Product Manager?

These are the standout differences between the Product Owner and the Product Manager:

  • Timeline: The Product Owner was born out of the 90s. The concept of a Product Manager originated in the 1930s with physical products, and then developed organically based on the emerging needs of early software development teams.

  • Strategic vs tactical: Product Managers are strategic. Their work is primarily driven by long-term organizational goals. Product Owners are tactical, focusing on short-term planning and delivery. 

  • Scope of focus: Product Owners explicitly own product backlog creation and execution. Product Managers cover the end-to-end lifecycle of the product.

  • Scope of collaboration: Product Owners are the link between the development team and the rest of the company; Product Managers run stakeholder management with a broad range of stakeholders: developers, designers, marketers, users, leadership, and more.

  • Seniority: In organizations with both a Product Manager and a Product Owner, Product Manager is the more senior role.

Product Managers May Work with Product Owners

Though not all organizations have Product Owners, Product Managers need to consider that they might one day work with a Product Owner. Product Owners can be a great support to a Product Manager, but they can also be a danger if they interfere with core Product Management tasks.

Product Owners are a liaison between the development team and the rest of the company. In some companies, a Product Owner will be the Product Manager’s primary point of contact with the developers. This is wrong. 

A Product Manager must always have access to the engineers and development team. Whether or not a Product Owner is in the picture, it’s essential for Product Managers to align directly with engineering stakeholders. 

If you’re a Product Manager and your company tells you you don’t need to interface with engineers because that’s the Product Owner’s job, run. There are many tasks that Product Managers can delegate, but cross-functional alignment is not one of them.

Further, the term “Product Owner” is often misused to refer to professionals with Product Management functions. When on the search for your next Product role, keep this in mind. 

Companies put out job postings for “Product Owners” when really they’re looking for a Product Manager, or vice-versa. Recruiters may also define a “Product Owner” as a feature owner, or a business analyst. 

If applying for Product positions, proceed with caution. Double-check your responsibilities in the job description and probe the company’s understanding of Product during the interview process to get a clear understanding of how the company defines different Product roles. 

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