When it comes to the wonderful world of business, it’s easy to think of an agency as a football team. Everyone plays their own position, but they all share the same end goal—winning

At one end you have the grunts on the line, busting their backsides and doing the work that may not be as sexy as the “skilled” positions, but without them, you wouldn’t get very far. 

Opposite them are the executives and leaders—those who have put in their time and no longer have to step foot on the field but instead recognize their team for grinding through the hardships as they hold up the trophy at the end of a successful season. 

Somewhere in between the two is a gray area. You have middle management on the sidelines who have the entire team’s best interest in mind and others who are running things on the field. 

“Middle management”, for the sake of this article, is like comparing the head coach and quarterback to a project owner and project manager. There is often a lot of confusion surrounding these two very different roles; each has distinct responsibilities.

In this article, we will review the primary differences between a project (or product) owner and a project manager.

Product Owner vs. Project Manager: The Similarities

In order to have a winning season, one of the core elements of a team is a highly skilled, knowledgeable, and intelligent head coach with a strategy and a talented quarterback to execute it.

When referring to an agile team handling new ideas, new initiatives, and large projects, someone needs to own the project strategy and someone should be on the ground floor to manage the team and delegate responsibilities.

But is one more important than the other?

No. In fact, the two must work together in order to be effective. However, each has its own individual roles and responsibilities. 

Sure, you can get by occasionally with one or the other, but in order to be consistently successful, you need both. Every project needs an owner, or it’s like asking the quarterback to design a game plan, put players in, read the defense, motivate the team, and execute the plays. Then again, you can have the best coach in the world, but without a leader on the field, you won’t get very far.

When organizing a team, it’s crucial to understand that title doesn’t make one role more important than another. One may have more responsibility or be considered a clutch player, but they are still part of a team that needs to work together to reach the desired outcome. 

What is a Product Owner?

According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide, Sixth Edition, a product owner is responsible for guiding the direction of the product. Product owners prioritize the work based on business value.

Product owners work with their teams by providing product feedback and setting direction for the next functionality or feature to develop, improve, and deliver. The product owner also works with stakeholders, customers, and teams to define and provide that direction and what will deliver the most value.

To put it as simply as possible, the project or product owner is responsible for defining the “what” and “why” of a project or improvement initiative.  

Product owners are:

Entrepreneurial-mindedProduct owners are focused on delivering value and making the most out of working with stakeholders to define every project and opportunity when working with key stakeholders. Like a coach, they put their name and reputation behind everything their team does.

Visionaries—A product owner is responsible for developing an organization’s overall product strategy and roadmap. They rely on stakeholder, customer, and end user feedback to help develop and shape the roadmap.

Decision-makers — Product owners are the ultimate decision-makers. 

What is a Project Manager?

According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide, Sixth Edition, a project manager is “the person assigned by the performing organization to lead the team that is responsible for achieving the project objectives.”

As we discussed in this article here, many organizations often confuse project managers with project coordinators or someone who creates Gantt charts, delegates and assigns tasks, schedules and facilitates meetings, and generally keeps projects on track.

Yes, project managers often do these things, but a project manager’s job really goes above and beyond that.

However, times have changed…

Not only are today’s projects more complex than ever, project failure rates continue to be alarmingly high, and AI is causing a little disruption, there is a greater focus on project leadership, or the “people” side of project managementteam building, collaboration, conflict management, and even leading teams through change.

Project managers are:

Servant leaders — As mentioned above, today’s project managers are really project leaders, putting greater emphasis on coaching team members, customers, and stakeholders.

As servant leaders, project managers encourage the distribution of responsibility to the team and to those who have the knowledge to get work done.

Negotiators—Project managers negotiate different aspects of a project. If a team member has tasks that overlap, they need to work with them to ensure that they not only get done but are done on time.

Project managers also need to work with stakeholders who have a vested interest in the project’s outcome or results. It’s important to communicate with stakeholders and maintain a positive attitude, but they can’t let last-minute items delay the final project or disrupt the team if it isn’t in the best interest of the end goal.

How Do Project or Product Owners and Project Managers Work Together?

Executing a vision

Delivering value—Leadership is a skill needed by both project owners and managers, but it can mean something different for each role. Like a head coach, a project owner motivates and inspires teams and is responsible for making sure everyone is ready to hit the ground running.

Communicating and collaborating—Communication is an incredibly important aspect of working with and leading a team. Whether addressing concerns or changes with stakeholders, discussing the game plan with the team, or delivering results, leaders must be clear and confident in the messages they deliver.


Adapting — Developing a new initiative, solving a problem, and creating change often includes numerous moving pieces. Both project owners and project managers must work together and be ready to pivot when business and/or stakeholder needs change. 

Leading a Team to Victory

Now take a look at your own projects and your team and ask yourself if you’re ready to hit the field. Do you have the appropriate leadership in place to execute your projects efficiently and successfully? Is there a designated project owner and a project manager who knows what their responsibilities are? 

If not, we can help! We specialize in all things project management and we’re ready to jump in where you need us. Schedule a call today for your free consultation, and we’ll be happy to help lead your team to victory!