How is a product owner different to a product manager?

Often, a product owner is a product manager.

It is the role that differs rather than the title.

A common misconception is that a Product Manager is outward looking whilst a product owner is internal.

The thinking is that product managers work with customers and project stakeholders to design and develop a product that truly delights the market whereas a product owner is perceived to be internal and focused on working with the scrum team exclusively.

That’s not what we want.

A product owner is the CEO of the product.

They are meant to work both internally and externally to design and develop products, services and features that truly delight customers.

Scrum often integrates into an organisation via a small team of people who choose to work with Scrum as a vehicle to build compelling products and solve complex problems.

The organisation, for the most part, does not change to fit Scrum. Only select areas do.

So, often a title such as product manager fits the traditional organisation hiring policies whilst the product owner role is exclusive to the small Scrum teams that build and develop products.

A product owner could just as easily be a member of the development team. It could be a brand or marketing manager that assumes ownership of the product and all elements relating to product and service development.

A product owner is meant to work both externally as well as internally.

Externally, they would be working with customers and product stakeholders.

Internally, they would be working with the Scrum team to ensure that the team knows what is prioritized and why it is important. They would be working with the Scrum team to design and develop compelling solutions to complex problems.

They set the vision for the product and often act as either a conduit or a proxy.

A conduit in that they provide feedback from the market and from product stakeholders through to the team. A proxy in that they may well know the answer to the questions being posed and provide guidance directly to the team as the CEO of that product.

In traditional organisations, people tend to use the title product manager because of the hierarchy within the organisation.

It’s a way of identifying who fits where in the food chain.

Junior product manager. Senior product manager. Executive Product Manager.

In scrum, there is simply a product owner.

In some organisations, they will differentiate by identifying people as a junior product owner or a senior product owner based on experience and capability, but Scrum doesn’t speak to that at all.

It simply identifies the role as that of a product owner.

So that is where the confusion around the difference between a product manager and a product owner arises.

It is simply organisational hierarchy at play.

If you are interested in becoming a Product Owner, visit our Certified Scrum Product Owner course page. Also visit the Advanced Certified Scrum Product Owner course page for an idea of progression within the role.

Frequently Asked Product Ownership Questions

Frequently Asked Product Owner Training Questions

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John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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