Project Managers vs Product Owners: Why you need both to make your product a success

by | Mar 24, 2020 | Expert Blog, News & Opinion | 0 comments

There’s a lot of discussion about what the differences between the project manager and product owner roles are, but not as much about why they both have an important part to play in the development of a product.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully gives an overview of both roles and how they both have their parts to play in this process. 

In essence, both of these roles are management roles, but what they manage is where you’ll find the differences. 

These two roles spend a lot of time together, but it’s the different elements they work on and how they support each other, and the rest of the team, that leads to the creation of great products.

A good place to start to highlight these differences, is in the roles they play in the product vision. A product’s vision is essentially the reason it’s being created, the problems it will solve or the job it will fulfill. The product owner helps to build this vision, the project manager helps create the plan to deliver it.


Planning and estimating

The main job of the PO at this stage of a project is to understand the vision and goals of a product and then communicate this to the team so that the decisions made during delivery are aligned to these.

So when a project is being scoped, once the PO established the goals of the project, they then sit down with the team to discuss what they plan to do, how they plan to do it and agree a rough estimate of how much effort/time it will take to build it.

So when a project is being scoped, once the PO established the goals of the project, they then sit down with the team to discuss what they plan to do, how they plan to do it and agree a rough estimate of how much effort/time it will take to build it.

The PM can then assess the proposed product against budget, deadlines and available resources to create a plan that best meets these requirements or if this is not possible, offer alternative approaches.

The PM will also assess the risks and dependencies of the project, which can then be raised with the client so they are aware of how this might affect timelines and delivery.


Building the product

Once the scope and plan have been agreed, the PO then breaks down the product into features with clearly defined value statements. These are prioritised with the delivery team based on the effort they take to deliver and the value it will provide to create the delivery road map. Throughout delivery, the PO works with the team on a daily basis to help with decision making, reprioritisation and to ensure the product vision is being followed.

During each sprint, the PO will work with the team to refine what needs to be built, how they plan to do it and what elements will be completed within each sprint. As the project progresses, the PO is on hand to make sure the client is getting what they want and the team understands what they are being asked to deliver. 

The PM on the other hand, tracks the progress of the project so they can assess if it is sticking to the planned schedule and timelines. They can then discuss any changes that might need to be made to requirements or resources as the project progresses. They also work with the team on a daily basis so they can support with any issues that are blocking the team from progressing. They can also manage issues and dependencies from any 3rd parties the team need to work with.

The PM also liaises with the client to highlight any risks that might be arising or dependencies that are due and affecting progress. They can also discuss any new features that have been identified and prioritised and how these might impact the original scope and goals of the project. Both the PM and PO work with the client to understand whether these new requirements need to replace something on the backlog or put together estimates to complete them in addition to the agreed backlog. 


Launching the product and what next…

When everything has been tested, the bugs have been fixed and the build has been signed off, the PO works to ensure that the value of the product is clearly communicated to potential users through relevant marketing channels. While the PM makes sure clients and users have everything they need to launch and use the product.

Once the users start using the product or new features, the PO looks to gain qualitative feedback from users and quantitative data from analytics to assess the success of the product and identify potential improvements and items for the product roadmap.

The PM is also on hand to support the clients and users with any technical issues or queries that arise post-launch. 

So as you can see, both roles are responsible for what is delivered, both are responsible for the team’s efforts in bringing value to the client but this is achieved by working together. The best analogy I’ve come across for trying to define the difference between the two is the production of a film, with the PO being the director and the PM being the producer. 

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