All blog posts

Product Owner vs Product Manager — Knowing the Difference

Uncover the key differences between product owners and managers, explore their roles, salaries, and tips for excelling in product management.

While the distinction may not seem obvious, the difference between a product owner vs product manager is at the core of modern development cycles. 

It’s the moment where strategy meets execution: The product manager is the visionary, charting the long-term direction and goals, while the product owner navigates the day-to-day complexities, turning strategic visions into actionable plans. 

Today we’ll unravel the layers of these pivotal roles, focusing on everything from their unique responsibilities to critical performance metrics to salary expectations. Plus, we'll give a few tips and insights for those aspiring to secure a product manager role. 

Prepare to delve deep into the dynamics of product management and ownership as we uncover what sets these roles apart and how they synergistically drive product success.

Understanding the difference — product owner vs product manager

First off, let's debunk a myth. Many think the product owner (PO) is just another term for the product manager (PM), like how some people say soda and others say pop — it's all just a fizzy drink, right? Wrong. They may look and smell the same, but they taste quite differently.

At a high level, it comes down to strategy and tactics. 

The product manager strategizes — analyzing market trends, dreaming up long-term visions, and ensuring all the departments are aligned on the roadmap. PMs are in the war room planning how you will take over the market with your product portfolio. 

The product owner is more of a tactician — working closely with developers to make sure every sprint brings you closer to the product goal. POs also develop user stories that turn product requirements and constraints into actionable user stories. They’re in the trenches, translating that attack strategy into actionable objectives. 

Here’s a high-level view of product owners vs product managers.

The product owner takes on a short-term tactical role and the product manager takes on a more strategic role

Product owners and managers are just different parts of the chain of command in your product department. You need them both if you want to create a successful product at scale. 

For example, let’s look at how each role would help drive revenue for a profitable CRM product like HubSpot that’s trying to integrate AI throughout its product portfolio.

Product Manager:

  • Analyze the market to identify how competitors like Salesforce and Zoho integrate AI into their tools
  • Collaborate with sales and leadership to identify profitable applications among the existing backlog
  • Update the long-term roadmap to incorporate new AI-based features and inform relevant stakeholders 

Product Owner: 

  • Oversee the development of a specific feature like automatic email responses 
  • Work with stakeholders to identify product requirements and transform each into an actionable user story 
  • Monitor development team sprints and feature progress against the overall roadmap

The Product manager and product owner are both central to launching that profitable new product; they just operate at different levels — strategy vs tactics. 

Now let’s take a closer look at the reality of working as a product owner vs product manager. 

Product owner role, KPIs, and salary 

The product owner is a tactician — laser-focused on the implementation of the product development process and progressing the backlog with sprints and scrums. They make sure today's work is on track to meet tomorrow's goals.

It’s a demanding role, but that just speaks to its essential place in a product-heavy market landscape. Here’s a list of some of the main roles: 

  • Guiding the development team through backlog management 
  • Creating user stories that guide product creation
  • Keeping the development team in line with the roadmap
  • Primary point of contact between the development team and other stakeholders

To accomplish these tasks effectively, strong organization, management, and communication skills are key.   

Skills and traits for success

To excel as a product owner, you need to have the right mix of interpersonal and technical abilities, including: 

  • Knowledge of product development process
  • Familiarity with development environments
  • Knowledge of Agile methodologies
  • Effective communication and leadership skills
  • Ability to prioritize multiple tasks
  • Customer research skills

It’s also important to remember that skill and temperament only take you so far as a PO. To realize the performance indicators below, you need to exercise your abilities through a product management platform that empowers you with automation and AI.

Product owner KPIs and metrics

Evaluating a product owner's success involves deciphering a series of KPIs, akin to following a star constellation to find your way. These KPIs might include:

  • The velocity of the development team
  • The satisfaction of the stakeholders
  • The quality of the backlog management
  • Alignment with customer needs and feedback

In terms of tracking product owner performance across these key indicators, there are quite a few different metrics:

  • Product backlog management: Tracks the efficiency in managing the backlog, including prioritization and completion rate, reflecting on the product team's ability to address user needs.
  • Time to market (TTM): Measures the duration from product conception to its launch, indicating the team's efficiency in bringing new features or products to market.
  • Churn rate: The rate at which customers stop using the product, indicating customer loyalty and satisfaction over time.
  • Customer retention: Measures the ability of the product to keep its customers over time, reflecting on customer satisfaction, product value, and loyalty.
  • Product quality: Assesses the reliability, usability, and performance of the product, often measured through defect rates, user feedback, and performance benchmarks.
  • Team velocity: A measure of the work a product team completes during a sprint, indicating the team's productivity and efficiency.
  • Sprint burndown: Tracks the work completed during a sprint versus work planned, showing the team's progress and any deviations from the plan.
  • Stakeholder engagement: Measures the involvement and satisfaction of stakeholders (e.g., customers, investors) with the product development process, reflecting on communication and alignment with stakeholder expectations.

These metrics tend to be more granular, matching the level of focus and control that POs have over the rate of development and the 

Average Salary and Influencing Factors

According to Indeed, the average salary for a product owner in the United States is $108,777 — with the lower and upper ends sitting at $76,274 and $155,131. Not bad, right?

Like with any job, the exact salary for a product owner position will fluctuate based on factors like: 

  • Years of experience
  • Location
  • Company size 
  • In-office vs remote
  • Market status 

The role of product owner requires a unique set of skills and traits to navigate the agile seas successfully. With the right skills and tech at your disposal, you can help your company discover new horizons and bring back treasures that benefit the entire organization.

Product manager role, KPIs, and salary

As the strategic mastermind of the product world, PMs focus on the product's entire lifecycle — from inception to sunset. They also have help to hand off the involved in product marketing and sales support, and often play a significant role in customer engagement. Their scope is broad, their gaze fixed on the product's journey through the market's tumultuous seas.

Product managers are the architects of the product world, tasked with:

  • Conducting market research to identify the needs and desires of the target market
  • Draft the product strategy and operationalize it with a product roadmap
  • Oversee the entire product lifecycle from introduction to growth to maturity to sunsetting

Product managers connect with stakeholders across different documents, platforms, and managerial levels. Just like with POs, the managerial, organizational, and technical skills are key. 

Essential skills for product managers

Navigating the product world from a higher level than product owners, PMs require a unique set of skills. Strategic thinking allows PMs to plan several moves ahead, anticipating changes in the market and adjusting their strategies accordingly. Stakeholder management is akin to holding town hall meetings, ensuring all voices are heard while aligning diverse interests toward a common goal. These skills, combined with a keen understanding of the product and market dynamics, equip PMs to steer their products towards success in the ever-evolving marketplace.

Inefficiencies in the company tech stack and departmental silos have an even greater impact at the PM level, which is why finding the right product management tool is even more important. See how Ignition uses automations, AI, and powerful integrations to keep PMs and all stakeholders aligned throughout the commercialization process.

Product manager KPIs

Product managers have their own KPIs that help them track the success of the commercialization process. These indicators include the product's life cycle progression, how it impacts market share, customer satisfaction, and the product's ability to meet its revenue and profitability forecasts. Each KPI serves as a checkpoint, ensuring the product remains on course and thrives in your industry.

Here are some of the key metrics used to assess how well PMs are performing across those key indicators:

  • Return on investment (ROI): Calculates the financial return on the investments made in the product, showing profitability and efficiency of resource utilization.
  • Customer satisfaction score (CSAT): A survey-based metric that assesses customer satisfaction with the product, providing insights into user happiness and product experience.
  • Product revenue: Measures the total income generated from the product, indicating its financial success and market acceptance.
  • Net promoter score (NPS): Evaluates customer loyalty and the likelihood of recommending the product to others, indicating overall customer satisfaction and brand reputation.
  • Conversion rate: The percentage of users who take a desired action (e.g., sign up, purchase), showing the product's effectiveness in achieving its business goals.
  • Feature adoption rate: Calculates the percentage of users who start using a new feature after its release, showing the feature's value and relevance to the user base.
  • Usage metrics: Encompass various indicators of how and how much the customers use the product and specific features, revealing engagement levels and areas for improvement.

The product managers are the commanders of the product department, so it's not surprising to see that their metrics are much more directly tied to the business’s bottom line. The PO oversees product development and keeps it aligned with the overall roadmap while the PMs make sure that map leads towards more money for the business.

Average product manager salary

Turning to Indeed once again, the current average salary for a product manager in the US sits at $117,858. The upper- and lower-end salary is slightly lower for a product owner vs product manager, with PMs bringing in $184,764 and $75,179, respectively.

Again, the size of the company offering the job, its location, and several other factors can all impact how much compensation you get for a specific product manager’s salary. Most startups don’t offer the same salary as an established enterprise company.

How to stand out and get a product manager job

Landing a job as a PM or a PO in today's saturated tech market can feel like launching a successful product itself — it requires insight, preparation, and a dash of creativity.

Given that over 500,000 product managers are in the US alone, you’ll need to do a lot to stand out. Here are some things you can do to help you take that next step in your PM career.

1. Stay market-savvy

Being well-versed in current market trends is non-negotiable. Follow leading tech blogs, listen to product management podcasts, and engage with industry reports. This type of second-hand knowledge helps build your understanding and empowers you to articulate a compelling vision for any product under your helm.

Or, you can take things a step further and interview your peers on what the latest trends mean for the industry.

2. Leverage your network

In the interconnected world of tech, your network is your net worth. Engage actively with professional communities, both online and offline. Attend tech meetups, product management seminars, and industry conferences. Connect with fellow PMs on LinkedIn, participate in discussions, and share your insights. Sometimes, the gateway to your dream PM role is just a conversation away.

3. Never stop learning

Product Management is an ever-evolving field, with new frameworks and tools emerging regularly. Staying ahead means committing to lifelong learning. Consider pursuing certifications in Agile, Scrum, or Lean methodologies. Engage with resources like Ignition for deep dives into product management essentials. These qualifications beef up your resume and sharpen your understanding of the PM landscape.

4. Mastering the interview

A PM interview is your stage to showcase strategic thinking and problem-solving prowess. Be prepared to discuss past projects in detail: the challenges you faced, how you tackled them, and the outcomes. 

Interviewers often present hypothetical product scenarios to gauge your thinking process. Approach these with a clear structure — identify the problem, analyze potential solutions, and recommend a path forward, always tying back to user needs and business goals.

Build your product management skills with Ignition

Building the skills you need to progress as a product manager or owner can be difficult in today’s environment. Most companies split the commercialization process between several point solutions and a project management tool. Lots of time, money, and valuable experience slip between the cracks.

With Ignition, everyone involved in the product development and launch process — from product owners and managers to product marketers and executive stakeholders — works through one comprehensive platform.

Instead of burning yourself out chasing down correspondences and version after version of outdated documents, you can start sharpening your product skills. Ignition allows you to see exactly how your processes contribute to revenue and helps you spot when they aren’t. 

Learn more about how Ignition’s AI powered tool drives product success.