The difference between Project Manager and Product Owner

Kamil Senecki | 2023-10-06

Management nowadays

In today's fast-paced world, everything happens more quickly than before. The things we do every day require dynamism and the ability to respond to a changing environment. Given that, effective project management is crucial for achieving success in the market. There are two roles in the middle of all of that: the Project Manager and the Product Owner. These roles and their responsibilities are frequently confused and mixed, but the truth is that they differ significantly from each other.

The Project Manager is like a conductor leading an orchestra during a concert, he leads the team. He ensures everything is done conscientiously and timely so project is finished within the defined scope, budget, and time. Meanwhile, the Product Owner focuses on the product. It must not only meet requirements but also fulfill user expectations. Their satisfaction is his success.

Project and the product

If we want to compare the Project Manager and the Product Owner, it's essential to start by considering the difference between a project and a product.

  • A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. It has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources.
  • A product lives as long as someone uses it. It succeeds when customers are using it, it generates profits, and solves user problems.

We consider a project completed when it is delivered. A product lasts as long as it is on the market, someone wants to use it, and it generates profits.

Two people talking

Manager and the owner

The next step should be to examine the scope of responsibilities for the Manager and the Owner. Ideally in the context of running a company. Let's imagine a company with two individuals working within it, each carrying out their tasks. One is the manager, and the other is the owner.

  • The manager oversees the work necessary to achieve the goals, instructs their subordinates on what needs to be done, and ensures that the work progresses. They execute the company's vision and report progress to its owner.
  • The owner's duty is to define the company's vision. He creates the strategy and set the course that the rest follow. The owner holds ultimate authority and bears the responsibility for the company's success. This means that if a problem arises that no one can solve, it is the CEO who must find a solution.

All of this could be summarized with the table below.

Project Manager Product Owner
Responsibility → project → product
Competences → planning
→ organizing
→ controlling the team
→ business domain
→ marketing
→ basics of data analysis and UX
→ everything else necessary for the product to succeed in the market
KPIs → project finished on time
→ within a budget
→ and defined scope
→ product generates value
→ keep attracting customers
→ and stays on the market

The difference between the two

The differences between the roles of a Project Manager (PM) and a Product Owner (PO) are not only theoretical but directly impact the dynamics and efficiency of the entire project management process. Understanding these two roles is crucial for achieving success. In both cases, it's essential to clearly define expectations and understand the scope of responsibilities. The choice between one or the other depends on the needs and team structure itself. These factors should guide us when we define the position.