Product Manager and Product Owner continue to be the two most popular roles across the Product space in the UK.

When navigating your career through Product it can be tough at times to understand which of these roles are most suited to your skills, goals, and future progression. This is made all the more challenging by the interchangeable use of the job titles by different organisations.

This article, based on the recent Product 51 Podcast episode with Lucinda Faucher, we hope will help clarify things for you.

To determine where you are best suited within Product, we first need to understand what the difference is between the traditional Product management and Product owner roles.

Product Manager:

The role of Product Management can be tracked back to 1931 and when Product management first hit the technology sector, the focus was predominantly on understanding and fixing those customer needs using waterfall methodology.

This is the first area where the roles differ.

Waterfall sees each phase of a product’s life cycle takes place in sequence, so that progress flows steadily downwards through these phases like a waterfall. Since the birth of Scrum in the early 90’s, agile methodologies have changed the way in which Product Managers work, however the fundamentals of a Product Manager role are still the same.  Scrum is adaptable, fast, flexible, and an effective agile framework that is designed to deliver value to the customer throughout the development of the project.

The Product Manager traditional is commercially focused and more about the ‘Why’. The Product manager creates the vision and strategy and works with different stakeholders to drive the value proposition for what they are building and monitors the success of the Product.

Product Owner:

The Product Owner role is a scrum role and traditionally sits within the Scrum team. The Product Owner role can vary similarly to the Product Manager role dependant on team set ups and organisation. The traditional Product Owner role is a tactical and task focused role. The focus is around prioritising the backlog, facilitating the team to manage that backlog, writing user stories, driving to meet sprint goals, understanding how to solve the problem, using analytics and data to understand users and become the voice of the user. The Product Owner role is all about the ‘What and How’- What are we building and how are we going to build it.

Role evolution is key:

Many companies now view the Product Owner role as more strategic. The emphasis very much on liaising between the Product Managers vision, and the development team who are tasked with executing that vision. Similarly, the Product Manager role has evolved to be cross overs between both Product Manager and Product owner roles dependant on the organisation you join.

The skills needed for both Product Manager and Product owner roles are transferable and many Product professionals move between roles for this very reason. What it really comes down to is what you enjoy doing most in your roles as you need many of the same skills to be successful in either role. If you really enjoy being tactical in your role, writing stories, getting involved in useability testing, working with stakeholders and the development team, focusing mainly on the now or near future, then the Product Owner role is potentially the role you will enjoy most. h If you want to look at what is coming next on the market and focus on the strategy and vision and what to focus on in the future to create a successful Product and business then the Product Manager role would potentially suit you better.

Things to consider:

It is important to focus in on the role description and how each individual business operates. The job title in Product Management or Product Ownership is not always a clear reflection of the role in the traditional sense. Make sure you focus on responsibilities and what you are going to be doing as a Product Owner or Product Manager.

Both Product Managers and Product Owners can progress to more senior roles through career development and neither hinder or progress moving into senior or management roles. The key in deciding what role is right for you is determining what you love doing at that very stage in your career. The Product Manager and Product Owner role are so interchangeable that you can experience both roles in your career without developing a whole new skill set, so maybe the answer is to just try.

Ultimately to be a successful in either role, you need to love building products, you need to want to delight your customers and think about the success for the business.

There has never been a better time to enter the world of Product. You could argue we would say that as we are clearly biased. However, do not take our word for it. Take the over 20,000 current live job vacancies across Product Owner and Manager on LinkedIn for the UK alone right now.

This article was written by Adrienne Howlett, Product Partner and Founder of Product 51. To find out more about Product 51 please check out our community page.