Sketch #7: Product Owner vs Product Manager – Is There a Difference?

I recently made sketch notes during the presentation made by Roman Pichler about the product owner role. In this sketch, you’ll learn who the product owner is, what a “Big” or “Small” product owner means and few options how to scale their responsibilities. But first, let me answer 2 questions  people are repeatedly asking and Roman tried to answer them, too.


I mean talking to the development team every day, preparing backlog, user stories, roadmap, vision and strategy, sales forecast, business plan, marketing plan, talking to the stakeholders (users or business),… I was surprised that no one argued with Roman, it looked like everybody agreed that it is not possible. Well, I was in this situation several times and I know other owners who are doing the same – managing all aspects. But it depends on the assets, what Roman confirmed later, too.

To simplify, we might say that for less complex products or products you just maintain, one person is enough, but for more complex products (especially those with more development teams involved), one person might not able to manage it all in expected quality and we put a product in a risk if we don’t involve more owners.


Roman rather calls them “Big” and “Small” product owners. Take a look in the sketch what he exactly meant. In fact, no matter if you are the product owner or the product manager, you have to follow 2 important rules otherwise you most likely fail.

You always connect “What” with “Why”.

“Why” is the most important word you should ask and you should explain. I often see product managers or product owners fail in explaining why they want something. Product managers forget to explain this to their product owners or business stakeholders, and product owners (if they know) forget to explain this to their development teams. As the result, people know what they are supposed to do, but they have no clue why. And how the product manager or owner can motivate and engage people in the product if she/he does not invest a time into this activity?

Even if you are “small” product owner, you must know all aspects of product ownership work and you use it whenever it is necessary. 

Another thing I spot many times is that the product managers are considered as senior managers while the product owners (in the same company) are considered as  junior managers, pushed to just listen to the product managers and reflect their ideas in backlog. Also, it often happens that product managers have no experience with the product development and they come from another area (sales, marketing, etc.). Such product managers can live in an ideal world where everything is easy and fast and in a worse case, they promise deliveries without consulting with the product owners. This atmosphere can result in a kind of fight between these 2 roles and put final products in a risk. Therefore product owners must know all aspects of product development, including strategic planning, so they can use it during discussions with the product manager – they act as partners.

As the chief product manager, I am successfully fixing this by creating a core group consisting of my product owners, senior developers, designers, architects, etc. I might end with 3 people or max 10 people depending on a size/complexity of the product. These all people are my partners (not subordinates), I work with them more than with others from development teams. involve them in setting up the vision and strategy, all important decisions, negotiations and discussions, forecasting and all creative processes. They can learn from me and I can learn from them since they are experts in their areas. By this approach, we do the products together and additionally, product owners can learn all aspects of product development process including sales forecast, budgeting, business planning or value proposition designing. And they understand why we do something since they are connecting “What” with “Why” with me   😉

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