Product Manager or… So many different job titles… What’s the difference?

Product owner

Product owner = Anyone who is responsible for building a product and maintaining it.
Product Owner (PO) is responsible for the product, and decides “what we are developing”. They make sure that the features of the upcoming product are clearly defined for the developers and valuable for the client.

Product manager

The role of Product Manager and Product Owner may be the same, however, PM might work on more than one product concurrently.
Product Manager is responsible for the lifecycle of the product( from conception, market research to managing the expectations for the product/products). These are the guys who need to be good at translating ‘market+user+buyer’ needs into the specifics of the product and related product-service boundaries.
As a Product Manager, you focus on product strategy, which includes going to market launch and ongoing targeting and marketing strategy. You ask yourself these questions:
  • What market are we targeting? With what? How?
  • What are our market’s needs and expectations? What brings them in and what keeps them with us?
  • What timing is right for our market?
  • What is our product vision? What needs are we solving for? What vision are we holistically driving toward?
  • What are our product priorities? What projects should team members prioritize over everything else?
  • What processes are needed to bring our products to market?
  • Who are the right people to help build our products?
  • What are our tactical to market, marketing, and seeding plans? Are they in line with our targeting strategy?
  • What channels for customer feedback are in place now? What channels do we need? Am I receiving and using customer feedback to drive product strategy?
  • In a matrix structure organization, what feedback can I supply to my manager and the managers of my product build team to drive toward product build efficiency?
  • What resources does this plan require from my organization?
  • What kind of investment can I obtain to support my product strategy?
  • What are the expectations of management?

Product line manager

It is a portfolio of products that a company owns and manages. It includes all products of an entity. For example, the product line of apple includes all the products in Mac books, Mobiles, iPads, and iPods.
Product Line Manager (PLM) is a senior role in the field of Product Management. Product Line Manager is responsible for the entire product line (a set of related products) or an entire portfolio of products. PLM might have few PMs reporting to him/her. PMs reporting to PLM might take care of specific products in the portfolio or specific components in the product.
PLM can be responsible for revenues/evolution of the entire portfolio of products or the addition of new products to the portfolio. In certain companies, they can be responsible for the formulation of solutions using a combination of existing products. The actual formulation of the solution will be done by the solution architect but PLM should provide inputs for the solution and should at least trigger the idea of solution based on customer needs.

Project manager

Tasked with the delivery of a specific requirement or component of a feature. Usually very “in the weeds” and manages time and resources, maintains scope, and reports up the risks and issues that the individual contributing teams encounter. The amount of requirements tweaking is minimal here — they have a set plan and are in charge of realizing it. Likely time horizon: monthly or quarterly. Scrum Masters typically fall into this realm.
Project Manager is responsible for the deliverables and timelines; more task and activity cluster oriented; these are the guys who need to keep their eyes and ears glued to operational objectives.

Program manager

Generally oversees multiple Projects that comprise a release or other milestone. Collates, collects, and analyzes the risks and issues reported by the Project Managers, and acts to maintain scope and cost, as well as high-level time and resourcing commitments. Probably in charge of tweaking and changing technical requirements and the like, but unlikely to be tasked with commenting on market or customer conditions. Likely time horizon: 3–6 months.
Program Manager is responsible for the outcomes (usually business and product-related) and may often be shared across products; usually functionally oriented because the program management skills for a marketing program differ significantly from a testing program or a development program or a supply chain management program. These are the guys who need to keep an eye on the operating model and need to have a good ability to translate strategic outcomes into tactical numbers.
As a Program Manager, you focus on the new processes. You ask yourself these questions:
  • Which products are in which process stages?
  • Who needs to do what to move these products toward completion?
  • Where are the bottlenecks and how can we work to minimize these bottlenecks?
  • Which products are the assigned priority products?
  • How should I report our progress toward a goal?
  • Are we on a budget? Where do we have budget flexibility?

ProductCamp team

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