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Product Owner vs Product Manager: Roles and Responsibilities

November 15, 2019

Ninjas. Gurus. Wizards. Rockstars. The job market has produced a lot of meaningless job titles over the last decade.

And with so many titles floating around out there, it can be hard to discern who does what job and if certain titles mean the same thing. One common mix-up is the difference between a product owner and a product manager.

Owner. Manager. They sound pretty similar! To anyone unfamiliar with the inner-workings of a product team, you might assume they are the same thing. While similar in name, these two roles are very different.

While they both work closely on product launches, the roles of a product owner and product manager are not interchangeable. This article will outline the differences between product management and product ownership.

Product owner vs. product manager

Whether you’re a SaaS company or you’re selling a specific good or service, you have a product that needs selling. And behind every product your company sells, there’s a team dedicated to making sure that product launches successfully and works the way your customers expect it to.

Two of the most important roles in your product team are the product manager and the product owner. The functions of these positions might look similar to the untrained eye, but they both support different parts of the product life cycle.

Product managers are strategists

They act as the brand evangelists for your product outside your company. A product manager heads up the market research, customer advocacy, and budget for your product. They also handle the external and internal communications surrounding your product. Product managers also create customer personas for your potential buyers and ideal customers.

Product owners are technologists

They take the strategy designed by a product manager and turn it into an actionable plan for the product team. They work internally with cross-functional teams to ensure everything runs smoothly for a product launch, daily scrums, and more. They take the customer personas built by product managers and make them into a reality.

Product Manager vs. Product Owner

In some cases, one person can own both the product manager and product owner roles. This is typical for small businesses or start-up companies. However, once your sales increase and you acquire more customers, there comes a need for both a product manager and product owner.

Aubyn Casady, a Senior Product Marketing Manager here at G2, points out the importance of having this two clearly defined roles for your company:

"As someone who interfaces with product daily, understanding and embracing the distinction between these roles is critical, as neither can function successfully without the other.

Customer feedback and market fit keeps a product relevant — but only when successfully and accurately implemented. I’ve worked at small companies who bundle these into one, which can work, but is not sustainable, because it uses two totally opposite sides of the brain.

The sooner you can distinguish between the two and get them working in harmony instead of against each other, the sooner you’ll find yourself launching products that don’t just work for your customers, but drive change for your industry.”

As Aubyn outlines above, at a certain point, these two jobs will require specialized attention and separate teams. This helps both you and your customers in the long run.

Product owner job description

Starting your career in product ownership will take some strategy to get started. The role of a product owner usually falls under the IT department, which means the educational requirements as much different than that of a product manager.

Most product owners are required to have an advanced degree in computer science, engineering, software engineering, or a related field. Most companies will expect a Master’s level degree in those same fields.

The skills needed for product ownership are more technical than that of a product manager. Here’s a look at the skills you’ll need:

Product Owner Skills

Technical experience is required for a role in product ownership because this position focuses on the backend of product design. Being up to date on the latest coding languages and industry best practices are crucial.

Related content: Learn how rapidly changing technology is shaping the customer experience.

Product manager job description

If you’re looking to go the route of product management, there are a few requirements you’ll need to hit before landing your dream gig. Most product managers are required to have a Bachelor’s degree in a related field and sometimes companies prefer candidates with an MBA.

Of course, experience and the right skills will take you far. You’ll need the perfect mix of hard and soft skills to master the art of product management. Here’s a snapshot of the top skills needed by product managers.

Product manager skills

Product managers are more focused on outward facing job duties. They work with the customer directly to ensure their happiness. Does this sound like something you’d be good at? Hop on over to our piece about product manager job descriptions for a deep dive into what it takes to become a product manager.

We’re all products of our environment

Whether or not your team has a single product person or an entire team depends on your needs and the size of your company. Ultimately, the right product path comes down to your passion and skills.

Once your product is ready for launch, you’ll need a team to send it to market. Learn more about how product marketing plays a role.

Product Owner vs Product Manager: Roles and Responsibilities What’s the difference between a product owner and a product manager, anyway? These similar but very different roles are both crucial for a successful product team. Find out why!
Lauren Pope Lauren Pope is a former content marketer at G2. You can find her work featured on CNBC, Yahoo! Finance, the G2 Learning Hub, and other sites. In her free time, Lauren enjoys watching true crime shows and singing karaoke. (she/her/hers)

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