Product Owner vs Product Manager – When Are They Needed?

Product development has never been an easy task. Despite the involvement of skilled specialists, even the most promising innovation can go off track. The task is also not made easier by the competition, which often creates similar solutions. Therefore to be competitive the founders of the companies put even more pressure on the team to come up with something better. Many companies rapidly test new products and ideas to meet changing market demands.

Project Management

As a result, competing priorities can cause organizations to lose sight of the initial product and business goals. This complex operating environment increases the urgent need for building a product development team that will include professionals that complement each other's competencies. Organizations, when planning their budget for product development, should take into account not only technical roles but also roles such as Product Owner and Project Manager.

In this article, we explain the role of the Product Owner and Project Manager and show how much impact they have on the success of your product.

New Product Development – from idea to launch

Product development is the complex process of delivering a new product from software through hardware, consumer goods, and services. However, it can also cover introducing improvements to an existing product. In this article, we will focus on digital products like software or applications. Each digital product passes through a product development life cycle which is a series of consecutive stages before it’s launched. Stages aren’t always identical. A product development lifecycle scheme is an ideal outline, not a rule that must be strictly followed in order to achieve the expected result of the product development.

If your product is software, it will go through 7 stages of development which aim is to preserve high-quality that meets customer expectations and reach completion within time and cost estimations. Software development life cycle provides a well-structured flow of work that helps a company to produce software that is well-tested and ready for production use. These stages are:

  • planning;
  • defining requirements;
  • design and prototyping;
  • software development;
  • testing;
  • deployment;
  • operation and maintenance.

However, software development, despite its complex process, is only one step in the entire product development life cycle. The full process of new PDLC includes:

  • idea generation;
  • idea screening;
  • concept testing;
  • market strategy and business analysis;
  • technical product design and development (the process mentioned above);
  • market testing;
  • commercialization.

To successfully go through product development you also need a project plan. The main purpose of preparing a project plan is to define goals, objectives, risks, specify tasks and required resources as well as identify the associated budget and the timeline for completion.

Having a well-developed project plan is one of the critical success factors for product development because it provides project direction, contains all of the planning documents, and helps to control if everything goes in the right direction. If it doesn’t - you are aware of what an obstacle is and with whom you need to communicate to solve it. The project plan identifies the roles and responsibilities of each person in the project.

Product Owner role and responsibilities

Both Product Owner and Project Manager are management roles, however, the difference is to what they manage. A Product Owner focuses on maximizing and delivering the best value. They bear business responsibility for successful project implementation. The Product Owner is a person on the team who makes high-level decisions about the product development - prioritizes “must-have” vs. “nice to have” features. Their actions are based on business analysis, current requirements, and changing conditions.

Their decision also determines the timeline, whether the scope of the project will be extended or reduced, and if the team will be scaled up or down. The Product Owner assists the Project Manager in providing leadership towards the completion of project tasks and makes sure the project aligns with the company’s bigger goals. Another important responsibility that they handle is keeping the team engaged. The Product Owner should help the team understand the value of the project, and be open to their ideas, so everybody feels they can impact its development.

When do you need a Product Owner? Whether or not a Product Owner is hired by a company usually depends on two factors. The first is the budget – in smaller companies, it happens that just a few people handle several roles and responsibilities due to cost reduction. The second factor is the complexity of the project – the more tasks the harder it is to take charge of an overall vision and product development direction. The Product Owner relieves the development team from monitoring whether the progress of work is still in line with business assumptions and needs.

Project Manager role and responsibilities

A Project Manager is mainly responsible for delivering the product in a timely and cost-effective manner. They manage a project on a daily basis and fully dedicate their focus to the project development flow and resources. The Project Manager gathers all necessary information from internal and external stakeholders. Then they define the purpose, objectives, and scope of the project as well as prepare the complete project plan and work breakdown structure. The Project Manager also regularly monitors the execution of the project.

Unlike the Product Owner, the Product Manager is obligated to track and measure team progress and manage people and resources. They base the success of project development on hard data and are the ones who see if the team is performing well or if some adjustments are necessary. One of the Project Manager’s goals is to make the development team stick to the plan – stay within the designated time frame and budget. They can also advise on project management tools, configuration management, or scaling up or down the team.

When do you need a Project Manager? Hiring a Project Manager should be considered when you want to reduce the duration of the IT project. They have a significant impact on the project workflow – which may get confusing and lead to delays because of weak task management. Another case, when the Project Manager is essential, is the development of complex projects that require a well-defined structure to be delivered on time. Building complex projects is also associated with higher costs, including these resulting from the work of developers - the Project Manager helps manage contractors' time.

How to find a Product Owner or Project Manager?

Both of these roles are closely related to product development and their presence in the team is often needed temporarily. That’s why, in such a case, one of the solutions that are the most beneficial is staff augmentation service. It not only guarantees quick access to a skilled IT talent pool but also allows you to keep your budget in order. You pay for your expert only during the project duration and acquire a specialist who helps you in action and during this time is in the company's structure but as a temporary employee.

You also do not need to worry about losing control over the project. While using the staff augmentation service you have full control over the workflow and the team which means more authority compared to leaving the team and project management to the outsourcing provider. IT experts that join your internal team are fully dedicated to you and your project for its entire duration. Another benefit is that a Product Owner or Project Manager who will be allocated to your team is vetted and their experience will most probably positively impact your product quality and value through proper management.

Summing up

Both a Product Owner and Project Manager manage and engage with stakeholders in order to see what to build and what is not necessary for the product. The Product Owner owns the budget, decides when to release the product, and in general has more control over it. PO is accountable for the success of a product, and for the value and outcomes resulting from the execution of projects. On the other hand, a Project Manager has a big impact on day-to-day product development – creates, manages, divides, and distributes tasks amongst team members. Also, PM focuses on controlling budget, scope and time which is extremely important for project success.

If you are searching for a qualified Product Owner or Project Manager you can reach out to Blue House.

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