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What is the difference between Product Owner and Product Manager?

    Get to know the differences and functions of each position

    If you work in the technology sector, you have probably heard these two terms: the product manager (PM) and the product owner (PO). But how far do the roles and responsibilities of each go? Do you know the differences between Product Owner and Product Manager?

    Within the agile methodology – the most used format in the technology market – these two positions stand out. 

    Despite having similar names and functions, each of these professionals works in different ways and are focused on different goals – although they often use the same tools, including KPIs, okr templates and more.

    Knowing how to differentiate the function and role of each, and when a company needs a Product Owner and a Product Manager, is key to making the right choice and avoiding frustration.

    However, deciding between the two can be challenging, since many factors, such as product maturity, organizational structures, and the company’s philosophy towards agile practices, influence how these two functions should operate within each company.

    POs and PMs share the same objective, so it can be difficult to draw a clear line between the two roles – hence the confusion. But while overlap exists, each professional has different responsibilities in the product management process.

    Product Manager and Product Owner: what is the difference?

    Generally speaking, the difference between the Product Owner and the Product Manager is in the focus of each one’s work. While the PO has a more operational role, participating directly in the development of the product, the PM is more focused on the strategic part of the product, considering its relevance in the market.

    The Product Owner as a professional emerged around 1990 together with Scrum, an agile methodology. POs have begun to appear more frequently recently, as agile methodologies gain prominence in corporate contexts, and especially in technology companies.

    The Product Owner works directly with the software development team, managing production and setting priorities according to what is expected of the product.

    The responsibilities of a PO vary according to the company, but their main role should always involve maximizing the value of the product and the work of the development team.

    In addition, the Product Owner is also responsible for sorting and managing the product backlog – an organizational list of all actions that need to be done within a given product. This organization is essential to align products with business objectives.

    The Product Manager, on the other hand, has a slightly broader and more strategic role, working at the intersection between user needs, business needs and constraints, and the technical feasibility of building the solution.

    Much more than managing the backlog, the PM should look to the future and understand how to deliver what the user wants, while promoting the growth of the business in which the product is inserted.

    Here are some important areas of knowledge for the Product Manager to master when building a product:

    • Customers – PMs should fully understand their target audience, their needs, pain points, what they think and what they expect from the product;
    • Data – PMs should analyze data acquired through research, observation of use or other means, and use this information to make decisions;
    • Business – PMs need to understand the business as a complete structure, including stakeholders and their needs, while factoring in issues from other areas such as marketing, commercial and sales;
    • Market – PMs should identify competitors and their position in the market, as well as how to generate a positive impact by defining the product’s market differential.

    Quite simply, the big difference between Product Owner and Product Manager is that a PO’s work is more operational and closer to the development team, while a PM’s work is more strategic, focused on the future of the product and synchronization between teams.

    Some of the functions of Product Owners and Product Managers 

    Putting a good product on the market is an increasingly complex challenge for organizations looking to innovate and please their customers. The increasingly accelerated advancement of new technologies and high level of consumer demand have made the work of professionals involved with product development increasingly difficult.

    It is a fact that agile methods have revolutionized the way of managing and developing products and, in this scenario, having professionals trained to exercise the positions of Product Owner and Product Manager is even more fundamental for companies to obtain satisfactory results.

    With different functions aimed at achieving the same objective, having both professionals on the team increases an organization’s chances of success when launching a product or service.

    As we have seen, while the PM focuses on delivering a technologically impeccable product, promoting a good user experience, the PO is responsible for maximizing the value of the developed product, working together with the team.

    Both are key players in software development projects and add value to businesses. As a result, in recent years they have become highly coveted by organizations that seek agility and efficiency throughout their operations.

    What similarities do the two positions share?

    Several similarities can be observed among the characteristics, responsibilities and abilities of each role. 

    Going by definitions alone, the following points stand out:

    • Maximizing product value;
    • Focusing on users and customers;
    • Meeting business needs;
    • Prioritizing and managing product deliverables;
    • A single person responsible for the product;
    • Autonomy in decision-making;
    • Delivery planning and review.

    In addition, he following responsibilities are often attributed to both professionals in the community and organizations:

    • Requirements specification;
    • Market observation and guidance;
    • Search for User Experience (UX);
    • Definition of delivery planning (Roadmap or similar technique);
    • Passing on expectations and results to those involved;
    • Analyzing data on users, the product and the business.

    In addition to these responsibilities, here are some of the skills required for both roles:

    • Good communication with users, customers, stakeholders, development team and other teams, among others;
    • Empathy – knowing how to put themselves in the shoes of everyone they interact with;
    • Autonomy over product decision making;
    • Strategic vision, aiming at planning and results;
    • Ability to learn based on information obtained before, during and after each interaction with users and the market.

    The differences between Product Owner and Product Manager are not exclusive, and focus on collaboration with the customer, agile delivery and dynamic response to a wide range of challenges and requirements.

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