Product manager or product owner?


First of all, let’s see some other concepts.

  • Managing backlog priorities based on inputs from stakeholders and clients; and
  • Maximizing the deliveries from the development team.

So are they different roles?

The short answer is no. Although they have a distinct focus, it is valid to say that they are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have one without the other. In other words, we can’t focus on improving the process of software development without thinking of improving the software that is being built; the same way that is not possible to think of improving it without investing on improving the process of software development.

What to do if your company has product managers and product owners?

I know some companies that operate with this role division between two distinct individuals and that, by reading this book, you’re now thinking you have staff to spare. :-O

  • Don’t go radical: don’t go on firing people thinking that there are overlapping roles. It is necessary a more careful look because other roles might be missing in your organization.
  • Product marketing: probably there’s a lack of people taking care of the product marketing, someone who has complimentary goals but different from the product manager. In the chapter about Product Marketing, I’ll write about the difference between product manager and product marketing manager.
  • Analyze what is being done today: it is probable that your product manager, sometimes called business manager, is doing more stuff than a product marketing manager. In this case, it is interesting that this person starts to work as an actual product marketer and leave the product manager activities for the product owner eventually. This one, thus, can take care of the product management.
  • Use a new product to experiment the new role division: another way to experiment this new role division and responsibilities is to use them only in a new product. When you start to develop a new product, experiment this new role division and see how it goes. If it works, you can unroll it to other existent products.

BA, PO and PM

In August 2016 I took over the management of product management at ContaAzul, and when I arrived I came across a structure with business analysts (BAs) and product managers (PMs), a new scenario for me. I spent some time talking to people to understand the roles and responsibilities of each function and the motivations for the creation of such a structure. After these conversations, it became clear to me the difference of roles and responsibilities of each of the functions, which I try to translate into the image below.

  • POs do what BAs do (specification) plus the prioritization of what needs to be done. And PMs, in addition to prioritization and specification, are responsible for the development, communication, and execution of product vision and strategy. There is an increase in scope and responsibility as you move from BA to PO to PM.
  • Although PM is responsible for developing, communicating and executing product vision and strategy, it is also responsible for prioritization and specification.
    It may make sense for some companies to have BAs and PMs, or POs and PMs, or even BAs, POs and PMs. However, there cannot be companies without someone as PM, developing, communicating and executing the vision and strategy of the product.
  • If in a company, in addition to the PMs, there are people in the role of BA and / or PO functions, it is possible to place the PMs as managers of the BAs and / or POs. However, this creates an extra burden for the PM who, in addition to managing the product, will have to worry about managing people.
  • My preference is for not having this separation of roles and having only PMs. If there are BAs and / or POs in a certain organization, my recommendation is for treating those roles as intermediate career steps that will evolve to reach the PM level, with increased scope and responsibility. The rationale for my preference is that by leaving the roles separate, the PM may make little or no specification and / or prioritization, delegating those responsibilities to BAs and / or POs. By doing so, the PM will lose important input to developing the vision and strategy of her product.

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success, solve its user’s problems and achieve the company objectives? Check out my Digital Product Management bundle with my 3 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products:

  • Startup Guide: How startups and established companies can create profitable digital products
  • Product Management: How to increase the chances of success of your digital product
  • Leading Product Development: The art and science of managing product teams

Mentoring and advice on digital product development

I’ve been helping several companies extract more value and results from their digital products. Check out how I can help you and your company.



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Joca Torres

Joca Torres


Digital product development advisor, coach, and board member. Also an open water swimmer and ukulelist.