Product Owners vs product managers: what’s the difference? Because we offer certified training for both roles, and we consult with organizations that use many development frameworks, we get this question all the time

The answer, in its simplest form, comes down to what you worry about.


Product Managers Worry About Profit

Regardless of how your business organizes the product development teams — Scrum, Extreme Programming, SAFe or something else — someone has to be worrying about profitability. And profitability carries a long list of worries with it: pricing, licensing, customer value, return on investment and more.

In a large organization with complex products, maximizing profitability is the domain of the product manager. We have recently written about our framework for maximizing profitability for software products, and we have even launched a whole training program for product managers where profitability is the central focus. 

So what do Product Owners worry about?

Product Owner vs Product Manager

Product Owners Often Get Boxed into a Tactical Role

When you see the side-by-side comparison above, the contrast is stark but not that surprising. In organizations which have both product managers and Product Owners, Product Owners often find themselves put into the “Customer Value” box, either by management or through their own choices, with  the majority of their time and attention being spent on tactics and execution related to maximizing customer value.

There is nothing wrong with being focused on customer value, but an overemphasis on tactics means most Product Owners are completely unaware of all the different ways to make their products and services more lucrative. Especially in smaller organizations, this can mean that no one is doing the hard thinking related to the business model, leaving potential profits untapped. If your organization does not have product managers, then the Product Owner MUST expand their horizon to consider all the elements of profitability.


Caution: Product Management Results May Vary

For the most part, product managers have a more sophisticated perspective about profitability. However, the quality of their thinking related to the various components of the profit engine can be highly variable. Most inexperienced product managers are completely unaware of the bigger picture. Other product managers act more like Product Owners and adopt a singular focus on value, pricing, or ROI and ignore the other levers that are within their reach.

Our solution to this problem is a multi-tiered training program for product managers that covers everything from the basics about the profit engine to more advanced topics like licensing and portfolio management. We are offering free trials for a limited time, so we recommend you check it out.