A Guide to Product Management Roles (and How They Compare)
What does a product manager do? Is it the same as a product owner? How about a product growth manager?
Trying to decipher where one product team role ends and another begins can be a head-scratcher, even for those who’ve been working in the product world for a long time. And the similarities between job titles doesn’t help.
The specific tasks and needs of each product management job can vary depending on the industry, organization size, and brand needs. In addition to the “product manager” role, many organizations also have roles for product owner, product operations, and product growth manager, each with their own responsibilities and areas of focus.
Let’s look at each role, the types of tasks they own, and how they differ from each other.
Product Manager: The Visionary
We’ll start with the most well-known role in product management: the product manager. Product managers are responsible for the development and management of a company's products at a high level. This is often the first product management role a startup hires before adding more roles to the product team over time.
The product manager oversees the whole product lifecycle, from new product ideas to the product launch, and beyond. Product managers do a lot of decision-making about the product, prioritizing features, and designing product roadmaps. They collaborate with cross-functional teams, including engineering teams, design teams, and sales teams, to define and plan product features.
Product managers' roles often vary based on seniority, org structure, and team size. They may lead the product team or report to Director of Product, Head of Product, or Chief Product Officer, again depending on the company size. Successful product managers have a deep understanding of product strategy, product marketing, and the product development process.
A typical day in the life of a product manager might include interviewing users, monitoring product usage metrics, checking in with product team members, and meeting with leadership to update them on product progress. Product managers may also read through the product research recommended by the product operations associate to decide which of their ideas to add to the product roadmap.
Common responsibilities for a product manager include:
- Making final decisions about the product direction
- Problem-solving issues with existing products
- Designing product roadmaps
- Defining product KPIs
- Managing product team members
Product Operations: The Support Expert
Product operations owns and manages the tech stack to keep processes streamlined and make sure their team is equipped with all the tools they need. Product ops also supports the product manager, often taking tasks off the product manager’s to-do list. While the product manager maintains a high-level view, guiding the product vision, product operations roles cover more on-the-ground work, helping with almost anything the product manager needs. They report directly to the product manager.
For example, while a product operations associate might cultivate a list of the best new features to include in a product, they would then hand it up to the product manager to decide which features are worth pursuing.
Product operations roles also coordinate with other teams to make sure product development is aligned with company goals and customer needs. They’ll often refine team workflows, research new product management tools, and conduct user research.
A typical day in the life of a product operations manager/associate would likely include pulling market data on potential features, making recommendations for the product manager to review, researching potential product roadmap tools to improve team collaboration, and reviewing user feedback passed on from the product owner.
Common responsibilities for a product operations role include:
- Developing feature lists
- Refining workflows
- Optimizing product team processes
- Conducting preliminary market or user research
- Building templates and managing tools for the product team
Product Owner: The Customer Advocate
A product owner is responsible for defining and prioritizing product features from the perspective of the end user. Their focus is on user experience—so a product owner must be an expert on customer needs and user data.
The product owner often conducts more in-depth user research than product operations in order to understand customer needs and pain points. They often engage with customers directly. They also participate in sprint planning and retrospectives by advising the team on what customers are requesting, and they usually track and analyze product metrics to gauge customer satisfaction.
They manage the product backlog and communicate product vision and requirements to the development team. This role requires excellent communication skills and a love of diving into customer feedback.
A typical day in the life of a product owner might include reviewing recent user feedback from forums or surveys to note any changes in user preferences, meeting with developers to discuss product backlog, and writing new current user stories for new features or products.
Common responsibilities for a product owner include:
- Prioritizing product backlogs
- Defining product requirements
- Understanding user needs
- Communicating product vision
Product Growth Manager: The Success Cultivator
A product growth manager is focused on product-led growth: shaping a product that essentially sells itself. They develop and execute go-to-market plans to make sure products meet business objectives and succeed in the market.
Typically, a product growth manager conducts market research and competitive analysis to develop and execute acquisition and retention strategies. They analyze user feedback to inform product decisions, track and analyze product metrics, and manage stakeholder expectations.
A typical day in the life of a product growth manager might include meeting with the sales team to discuss the next quarter’s sales projections, pulling market research, and flagging important market changes for the product manager to review.
Common responsibilities for a product growth manager include:
- Conducting market research
- Analyzing user feedback
- Developing go-to-market plans
- Suggesting pricing
Project Manager: The Timekeeper
Project managers are responsible for managing projects from start to finish. While the product manager is focused on the product as a whole, the project manager zooms in on the tasks required to get the product ready.
The project manager is focused on the details of project success—that includes the scope, timeline, and budget. They’re the ones who help everyone else keep time; they’re the detail-oriented enforcer who makes sure everything is running smoothly and on schedule. They are responsible for creating project plans, tracking project progress, and allocating tasks or resources for each project.
Project managers focus on project execution and delivery, while product managers focus on product vision and strategy.
A typical day in the life of a project manager might include reading through updates from product and development team members, including Slack messages, Jira tickets, emails, and team meeting notes. Project managers then revise schedules based on recent updates and meet with the engineering team about the projected timelines of any upcoming projects.
Common responsibilities for a project manager include:
- Defining project goals
- Creating project plans
- Tracking project progress
- Finding blockers in the project process and removing them
- Keeping the rest of the team motivated and on task
Use the Right Tool for the Job: Essential Product Management Tools
Using the right product management tools can make a significant difference in the success of a product management team. From ideation to delivery, the right tools can help streamline processes, increase efficiency, and ensure that the team is making data-driven decisions. By using the best tools, product managers can stay ahead of the curve and deliver exceptional products that meet customer needs and exceed business objectives.
Looking to further enhance your product management skills? Check out our blog post on the product management tools we're using in 2023. From collaboration to customer feedback, these tools will help you thrive in your role and stay ahead of the curve.