What’s the difference between a business owner, product manager and a product owner?

What’s the difference between a business owner, product manager and a product owner?

The roles of business owner, product manager and product owner are often confused, so what is the difference between them?

A business owner is a role often cited in a corporation where matrix management is at play. They are a key stakeholder, probably representing the needs of a whole business unit, like editorial, commercial, partner relationship management, for example.

A product manager owns the entire lifecycle of a product from idea, through to explore, validate, grow, sustain and eventually retire. They are a key decision maker and accountable to the business for delivering value to their customers.

A product owner is a subset of this, generally looking after the grow and sustain parts of the lifecycle. The term is a key part of the Scrum framework. Many people feel that this could also be rebranded as ‘product backlog manager’.

Be aware that the terms ‘product owner’ and ‘product manager’ are used interchangeably in many organisations without a second thought to the actual definition behind them. The name is usually employed though convention only and the role can differ from team to team, department to department, company to company and region to region, anyway. Really, product can just be defined at the highest level as ‘defining the problems that need to be solved’ and we should endeavour to see the person behind the job title anyway.

Also be aware that many organisations do very well without business owners and that they often exist to solve a communication, internal politics or even time-zone problem. Putting the argument of whether a business owner should exist to one side, often the success factor of the role is down to either the initial intent behind its inception, the skills, experience and personality of the individual in it or most likely a mixture of both.

The crucial take away is that job titles are often meaningless, especially relative to the need to get value delivered. If the mixture of job titles and roles is working, leave it. If it’s not work out what the problem is and then move to solve it.

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