Product Owner vs Product Manager: What's the difference?
Hey, welcome to The Product Compass. Every week, I share actionable tips and resources for Product Managers.
Subscribe now and upgrade your account, if you haven’t already, for the full experience:
In 2024, we need to end this madness. Product Owner is not a job title.
When you split the roles;
Product Manager talks to the business and customers.
Product Owner (“backlog administrator”) works with developers, collecting and documenting “the requirements” and inspecting their work.
I consider this one of the worst anti-patterns in product management.
Product Manager Responsibilities
I agree with Marty Cagan, who wrote that to succeed as a Product Manager, you need:
Direct access to users and customers.
Direct access to business stakeholders.
Direct access to engineers and designer.
Without proxies. Product Owner included.
So the only valid setup is that the Product Manager and Product Owner are the same person with the end-to-end responsibility:
In particular, the Product Trio must work together. Product Manager, Product Designer, and at least one Engineer perform Product Discovery together.
For more information, see my free post on Product Discovery:
“But it’s too much work”
A common argument is that combining two roles is "too much work for a single person."
That might happen if you spend days attending useless meetings or writing detailed instructions. But if you empower others, prioritize work, and focus on value without BS, things go smoothly.
In the past, I explained the importance of focus, strong prioritization, and leading with strategic context. For more information, see:
Product Owner vs Product Manager in Scrum
As the Scrum Guide 2020 explains:
“The Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Scrum Team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, Scrum Teams, and individuals.
The Product Owner is also accountable for effective Product Backlog management (…)
The Product Owner is one person, not a committee. The Product Owner may represent the needs of many stakeholders in the Product Backlog. Those wanting to change the Product Backlog can do so by trying to convince the Product Owner.”
Jeff Sutherland, co-creator of Scrum, who coined the term “Product Owner,” recently wrote:
“I created the Product Owner based on the Chief Engineer model at Toyota. He does not report to a Product Manager and he owns the Product.” - Jeff Sutherland on X (Twitter)
The Product Owner’s accountability, described in the Scrum Guide 2020, is best fulfilled by an experienced Product Manager.
Product Owner vs Product Manager in SAFe
You might ask, “But what about SAFe?”
Unfortunately, splitting Product Owners and Product Managers is exactly what SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework aka. undercover waterfall agent) implements:
Dozens of thought leaders, including Marty Cagan, Jeff Gothelf, Chris Matts, Ken Schwaber, Jeff Sutherland, Martin Fowler, and Dave Snowden, expressed a very negative opinion of SAFe.
Let me say this clearly:
No successful, innovative product organization (Netflix, Google, Meta, Airbnb, Amazon, Apple, Uber, Spotify, Dropbox, Microsoft, etc.) uses that framework.
If you are a Product Owner or Product Manager who struggles with SAFe, just as I did in the past, this might help you:
Does the Product Owner vs Product Manager job title matter?
Some say that job titles don’t matter as long as you have one person responsible for the product.
A resume is your ticket to an interview. Using job titles different from what everyone on the market recognizes might hurt people looking for a job. Hiring teams might not get it and reject the candidate without giving her a chance.
As a candidate whose official job title was “Product Owner,” despite being a true owner of the product, I would consider using "Product Manager" in the resume to communicate my experience in a way others can easily understand.
And explain it during an interview. For more information, see:
Hope that helps. What are your thoughts?
Let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading The Product Compass
It’s incredible to learn and grow together.
Consider upgrading your account, if you haven’t already, for the full experience:
Embrace every moment and chase your dreams in the new year. May 2024 be your year to shine! 😊