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Product owner vs project manager 

Daria Iniewski

Daria Iniewski | Growth Marketing Manager

12 November 2021 • 7 min read

Product owner

Product owner and project manager – what is the difference between the two?

Those terms quite frequently pop up here and there. Both are related to IT and both are quite obscure. That’s why even those who work in the IT industry might think it is the same thing.

The confusion stems from the fact that in small startups with a limited number of employees, one person can be product owner, project manager, product manager and scrum master to name a few at the same time. 

According to the classical definition of these jobs there is certainly some overlap in job responsibilities and skills needed. Nevertheless, the roles of product owner and project manager are actually quite different.🤙


So let’s dive into the job of product owner and discover what are his core work responsibilities


In the simplest words a product owner is a leader who has the biggest impact out of all team members on shaping an IT product in a project.

It’s a senior role for someone who has really strong fundamentals in IT, UX, business, agile methodology and even human psychology.

Product owner is a visionary who establishes the whole strategy of a product, defines long term and short term goals and maps out product development stages, ensuring that a product is complying with the business goals along the way. Therefore, product owners are also business analysts, who also have to balance between the elements of the well-known Iron Triangle – time, scope and budget. For instance, if some functionality seems “cool” and all of the competitors have already introduced it,  yet it would be an obstacle to meet business KPIs on time, product owners have to really carefully consider whether it is worth the time and money investment and make a verdict about it. 

On a daily basis, a product owner carefully examines progress done by a team as well as budget and time constraints.  On the basis of these factors he creates a backlog of tasks needed to be completed. He constantly gives feedback to the team members and identifies weak spots for improvement. 

A product owner is also involved in creation and refinement of a customer map. He works closely with both the sales and marketing and the customer support teams to collect and analyse customers’ feedback about a product. He constantly evaluates the customer journey and determines whether some features have to be added, removed or changed.

He stays in contact with stakeholders and reports them about the progress achieved. They in turn, give him the feedback, which he along with his own vision turns into an actionable plan for the team. It is very important to understand that product owners don’t do merely what stakeholders tell them to do. As senior leaders they have a strong say in the way the product is made and sometimes their vision opposes certain ideas of management boards. Their mission is to deliver the best quality product and frequently no one else knows the product as well as them. Even the most senior stakeholders should remember that.


What about project manager then?


The most important is that a project manager is accountable for punctual and accurate delivery of a project he manages.  Project managers usually have a clear action plan that they use in order to delegate tasks to team members. 

They come up with assignments and distribute scope of work among team members. 

Additionally, they do some kind of “team engineering” – they pick team members to perform specific tasks and often they reallocate people from one team to another.

PMs are also involved in cost control. They regularly estimate and review budgeting in order to find the least pricey way to approach a task. 

Project managers’ important task is also motivating others. Good project managers are normally full of energy and enthusiasm, which they have to pass to less elevated team members.

Last but not least, people in this role do a lot of reporting on progress done, which they later share with the management board. 

For the tasks listed above  PMs often use a “standard pack” of a project manager, including Project Plan, Project Initiation Document, Gantt Charts and others. 


So what product owner and project manager have in common and how they are different


In conclusion, these roles can indeed be similar. At the end of the day they are both in management.

Both roles also require splendid communication and leadership skills as well as a willingness to take accountability for a project delivery. 

All in all, product owners perform rather more strategic and visionary functions, while project managers work to ensure that all the tasks are completed on time and a team manages to do everything correctly. All things considered, product owners’ role is much more business oriented, while project managers’ job is more on the operational side.

Sometimes, product owners stand above project managers in the hierarchical structure of a company and even delegate them some tasks. 

Frequently, product owners flourish when they operate in rather uncertain environments, while project managers are best suited in an understandable and clear workspace.


If you have some doubts regarding possible ways to build your startup, we in Winalife, will be happy to help. We possess knowledge and experience in building and growing startups and therefore will be extremely happy to give you a hand.
Feel free to reach out to us at🤙

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