Project Manager vs Product Owner

In product development, two roles often stand head-to-head: Product Owners and Product Managers. But what sets them apart?
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Product Owner

Simply put, Product Owner role is to “maximize the value of the Product”. Yeah, we have heard it many times, but what does it actually mean?

Maximize the value of the Product

Value is nothing else than the financial benefit that the company receives by releasing a developed product (until it is pro bono). Now, knowing that, we can say that a Product Owner is a key person responsible for the Product, its management, its vision, and is inextricably linked with the Development Team who produces it.

Product Owner responsibilities - a simplified version

Define a clear vision.
Product Owner is the person who should communicate with the rest of the company and understand business objectives. Then, understanding that he should be able to prepare a product Roadmap to present the business goals to the team easily. It’s on his shoulders to keep the product in line with goals and ensure the Development Team understands where they are going.

As PO knows the goal, he can juggle budget, timeline, and scope for defining priorities: what should be done first and what can be done next.

Manage the Product backlog.
Ok, we already know that PO needs to prioritize, but what exactly? First, he needs to prepare a backlog (a list of functionalities that the product should contain). Then, he should manage it, which means: designing dependencies, blockers, priorities, create user stories. Here I would like to stop for a moment and have a better look at this point.

Papa Of User Stories. Poor user stories, or even lack of them, is one of the biggest complaints from the Development Team. I used to caressingly call the Product Owner a Papa of user Stories, as creating them is one of his key responsibilities. User Stories are the heart of the PO’s role as they represent the tangible elements of the vision, are prioritized, and show detailed direction. It’s an instruction for the team. The Development Team can actively help PO and provide technical support, but PO is the only one and the right person to define the pieces that are creating the final product.

Oversee development stages.
As some of the overseeing duties can be delegated e.g. to Project Manager, it’s important for PO to be present on Sprint Review and Refinement. Under these Scrum ceremonies is nothing more than checking the product under construction and seeking process improvements.

Who should be a Product Owner?

In our collaborations, the Product Owner role is cast by someone from the customer's side. You know your product, vision, and goals better than anyone. If you don’t have such a role specified in your company, it’s nothing to worry about! At the same beginning of our cooperation, we’ll consciously discuss the responsibilities and give you all the necessary support to fulfil that role. Our project managers can also act as Proxy-PO who could work with you hand in hand if you need only partial support. For full commitment support we highly recommend our close partner Expandior.
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Project Manager in Amsterdam Standard

If you google “Project Manager” you’ll get a list of responsibilities that a person in this role is accountable for.

If you talk to any Project Manager you’ll notice that it differs in the companies.

If you think about Agile and Scrum you’ll find out that there’s no role like Project Manager, only Scrum Master. What’s the role of the Project Manager in AS then, and why is it so important?

We’re more than Scrum Masters

We work in Scrum or Kanban, and usually one of our PMs plays the role of Scrum Master, (until otherwise agreed at the beginning of the project). It helps our client to have the best focus on the PO role.

Other Project Manager's responsibilities are as follows:
- Weekly health-check with a team.
- Key facilitator: Their goal is to empower their team and clear potential roadblocks, paving the way for project success.
- Support the team with ‘inside’ issues.
- Feedback evaluations, team performance.
- Build process and seek improvements.
- Support PO in his role.
- Organize other ad hoc meetings, team integrations, and visits.
- Introduce new team members to the rest of the team.
- Help manage holidays.


Project Manager - observer
For smaller projects ( <2devs) or projects with a PM on our partner’s side, we support as active observers who start acting when the situation calls for it. It’s the minimum engagement that ensures that if something unexpected pop’s up, we’re up and ready to help you. This approach is based on weekly or biweekly health check with our partner and team, yearly evaluations, and ad hoc help.

We’re on this boat together!

To feel the roles and responsibilities of PO and PM better, let’s see them this way. You’re going on a cruise, but you don’t know how long it will take. It's the most important cruise in your life because it makes your dreams come true and will bring you money.


You’re taking a team with you, it's an experienced crew, very eager to sail with you. But they either don’t know how much time it will take and what’s the destination, they don’t know you, don’t know the boat, so it’s your first role to do. You need to explain what’s the objective of this sail, where you are going, and what you want to achieve. Human memory fails, so you can prepare for them a (road)Map showing the most important places you’ll be visiting and more or less when. If the weather disturbs your course and you deviate from the sailing course, don't forget to update your map! You have a budget for your trip, you know the desired dates of arrival and the scope of the journey. It’s up to you to prioritise this trip and plan the most important ones.

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Ah, the scope. On your ship, each crew member has a task. All the tasks are important for the journey and its scope. They’re experienced guys, so they will be fine with outlined user stories. Just prepare the generally described tasks for two weeks. Don’t forget about the acceptance criteria. If you want them to bootleg rum in barrels, say it! Otherwise, if you just say: prepare me alcohol in barrels, you may expect anything else. From time to time, have a look to see if it goes according to your priorities, if the process is going well and if the boat is heading in the right direction. We don’t want to have a Titanic, right? As a ship captain, you have more important things to do than look after your team daily.


Luckily, you took the project manager with you, who’ll be your right hand. He’ll perform standups, retrospectives, and other sailings (scrum) ceremonies. He’ll remove obstacles, take care of your crew's well-being, support you, and take care of process improvements. So, even if you get seasick, your crew will be taken care of, and the ship will be on track!

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Key to good cooperation

… is simple. We define the roles and responsibilities at the early stage of cooperation, together. We support each other during our common journey and always bet on clear and transparent communication.
Written by: Karolina, on November 23, 2022
Project Management