Product Manager vs Product Owner

Meet the Product Owner. This person ensures the team delivers a great product that the stakeholders love. Meet the Product Manager. He makes sure the team delivers a great product the stakeholders love. Although redundant, broadly speaking this is an accurate statement. Both roles are pressured to lead teams to deliver valuable products. However, both are responsible for catering to a distinct set of needs from distinct groups of people. So why is it that some companies hire product managers and some companies hire product owners? A lot of people misunderstand the differences between these two roles but as companies start scaling, it is paramount that both roles are incorporated.

What’s the difference?

Meet the stakeholder. The stakeholder is loosely define as any person with an interest or concern in something, especially a business. Essentially the stakeholder as a whole tells you what decisions to make about the product. Every application has users. These users are always stakeholders. However, the user voice is not always heard in many instances. Here is where one the key differences between the two roles is exposed.

The Data Stakeholder

Generally, a Product Manager is best utilized when dealing directly with a consumer based application where the PM is considered the CEO of the product. One of the Product Managers most important stakeholders are the data. The product manager uses the data to make key decisions about the future of the product. The Product Manager is ultimately responsible for the success and failure of the product.

With the broad accessibility of web based data analytics tools by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and many others. The Product Management role is trending towards what I am calling the data stakeholder.

Coincidentally, this new faceless stakeholder is being considered the most important stakeholder of all. A good data stakeholder tells you everything you need to know about how the product is interacted with by the user base.

The Crowdsourced stakeholder

New applications like User Voice aim to crowdsource the stakeholder. This crowdsourced stakeholder essentially allows for the features with the most perceived value by the crowd (users) to float to the top. These tools allow the users to submit and collaborate on new feature requests. Once a feature request is submitted to the backlog users are able to vote on their favorites. The features with the most votes float to the top and dictate the priority for the product team.

The crowdsourced stakeholder may not account for all of the products stakeholders, but it can act as a replacement for traditional surveys and questionnaires that often times people pass up due to inconvenient timing.

The Stakeholders Stakeholder

The Stakeholders stakeholder can be found in a corner boardroom at a large corporation. The Stakeholders stakeholder leverages face to face interaction with the customers (other businesses) who may have a large influence on the product. Many business to business applications rely on heavy involvement and hand holding of the customer. The customer here, can often be defined as other large corporations who dictate and directly influence the product decisions with their checkbooks and corporate Amexes.

In this scenario the product owners has two sets of stakeholders. There is primary stakeholders directly involved in the products daily decision making. At the enterprise level this is often time business users within your company who is frequently interacted with. Then you have the customer stakeholders who influence large decisions about the direction of the product, and where the primary stakeholders should allocate resources.

This particular environment is where a Product Owner is best used in an agile framework, where the customer is more ‘present’. Present, meaning that the traditional stakeholder is actively involved in the products success and failure. In this scenario, the product owner shares the market success or failure of the product with the product team and the primary stakeholders. Do to the nature of the product owner role, often times the product owner can appear to be handcuffed by stakeholders in this environment.

Ultimately, in this situation, the product owner has far less power over the product and is really just responsible for parsing requests made by the primary stakeholders from the core user base stakeholders. Confusing situation, I know.

In any sense, Product Managers and Product Owners can, and should live harmoniously in the same environment. However, the types of stakeholders involved in the product can hinder the impact of either one of these roles and their ability to deliver a successful product or not.

There are many other differences and similarities between Product Managers and Product Owners that I clearly omitted in this article. However, the complex types of direct and indirect stakeholders involved in a product development effort help differentiate the needs of both of these roles.

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