Product Manager vs Product Owner vs Project Manager

Different names for the same role or 3 completely different roles with similar names? However, this question is multilayer and very complex, I believe there are factors that can produce the answer to who is Product Manager, Product Owner and Project Manager.

Please remember that things are not black and white – there are multiple shades of grey. I mean that in different companies and different environments things might look slightly odd. My intention is only to give you a brief understanding.

FactorProject MangerProduct OwnerProduct Manager
Work levelBacklogRoadmapVision

Levels of work

There are three leveles on which one can work with a product.

Vision level (Product Manager)

Every product needs a vision! It helps in doing the right things. Vision is often manifested with a North Star. Every decision should be taken with the product vision in mind. Setting a clear vision of a product or even a whole company is a way of strategic thinking. When you work on a vision level you don’t get into details. On this level, we answer the question: “What our ultimate goal is?“.

Roadmap level (Product Owner)

It is a written answer to “What are we going to do (to get closer to goal)?“. It is often a 3 to 6 months long forecast of initiatives and projects we (as a product team) are about to build. Building a roadmap puts our vision into a time span.

Backlog level (Project Manager)

The lowest level, strictly tactical but not the easiest one for sure. Work on this level is focused on “How are we going to implement the things?“.


What I mean by that is how responsible the role is for the overall success or failure of a product.

Basically Project Managers often execute fixed-scope projects with no impact on marketing. They can still do their best to improve UX and UI but if the whole concept of a product is missed – no matter how hard they are going to work, the product might still fail. That’s why they are very little accountable for failure.

On the other edge of the axis lays complete ownership. When the product fails, no Product Manager can make excuses, that execution was bad. He is responsible to ensure that the product will be successful! Somewhere in between, there is a Product Owner with an indirect impact on vision and plans.

Aren’t the Product Manager and Product Owner very close?

Product Owner is the role defined in the Scrum Guide and explained with Product Manager attributes. In terms of Scrum, they appear the same.

That’s when definition from INSPIRED by Marty Cagan comes handy. In his great book, he defined the Product Owner as a backlog administrator when the Product Manager is a role with wider responsibilities. However, it is said very strongly, that In product companies, it is critical that the Product Manager also be the Product Owner.

Still, the product manager needs a wider spectrum of information and does a lot more than what is defined for instance in The Scrum Guide. Clearly, because the role of a product owner is a part of being a successful product manager it requires more skill.

1 thought on “Product Manager vs Product Owner vs Project Manager”

  1. Great article, short and to the point. In our startup one person performs both role of a product manager and a product owner, but it will be interesting to see how this setup will perform once the company starts scaling. I’ve been researching this topic for some time now working on a product management framework with my team maybe you’ll find some interesting points there as well.


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