What is the Difference Between a Product Manager and a Product Owner in SAFe?

“Be my superhero—your donation is the cape to conquer challenges.”

Powered byShalomcharity.org - our trusted charity partner

Donate now!

"A small act of kindness today could be the plot twist in my life story.”

Powered byShalomcharity.org - our trusted charity partner

Donate now!


What is the Difference Between a Product Manager and a Product Owner in SAFe?


Manasi Srivastava

Published June 15, 2022

Subscribe to the blog

In the world of agile software development, there are a few key roles that are essential to a successful implementation. Two of these roles are the product manager and the product owner. While they both share some common responsibilities, there is a big difference between the two roles. In this blog post, we'll explore what those differences are and how they can impact your project.

The Role of the Product Manager

In the SAFe framework, product managers play a vital role in ensuring that products are aligned with the company's strategy and goals. They are responsible for developing product roadmaps, setting priorities, and coordinating product development efforts across multiple teams. In addition, product managers must also be able to effectively communicate with stakeholders, provide clear direction to development teams, and ensure that products are delivered on time and within budget. Here are some of the key roles of a project manager:

Conducting user research

User research can be conducted in a number of ways, but some common methods include interviews, focus groups, surveys, and ethnographic studies. The goal of user research is to uncover the needs and challenges of the target audience. This information can then be used to inform product decisions and generate insights that will help you create a more user-friendly product.

Creating and maintaining a product roadmap

In addition to conducting user research, the product manager is also responsible for creating and maintaining the product roadmap. This document outlines the vision for the product and sets forth a plan for how that vision will be achieved. A product roadmap is an important tool for keeping everyone on the same page and ensuring that the product remains focused on its objectives.

Tracking and monitoring progress

Finally, the product manager is responsible for tracking and monitoring progress against key metrics. This helps to ensure that the product is on track and that any necessary adjustments are made along the way. By performing these activities, the product manager plays a vital role in ensuring that the final product meets the needs of users and achieves its business goals.

The Role of the Product Owner

In SAFe, the Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product and ensuring that it meets the needs of the customer. They are the champion of the product and work closely with the development team to ensure that features are being built to meet customer demands. The Product Owner also works with stakeholders to manage expectations and ensure that everyone is aligned on the product vision. They are expected to have a strong understanding of the product, the market, and the customer. They must also be excellent communicators and have the ability to make tough decisions in a fast-paced environment. Here are some of the key roles of a Product Owner:

Backlog management

This includes keeping the backlog up-to-date, ensuring that it reflects the current priorities of the business, and ensuring that there is enough detail in each item for development to proceed. The product owner also works with stakeholders to ensure that they understand the backlog and their role in it

Release planning

The product owner is responsible for release planning, which means they are responsible for deciding which features will be included in each release. This can be a challenging task, as it requires balancing the needs of the customer with the capabilities of the development team.

Stakeholder engagement

The product owner in a SAFe organization is responsible for stakeholder engagement. This means that they work to ensure that stakeholders are kept informed of project progress and that their needs are being met. To do this, the product owner must have a strong understanding of the business goals and objectives of the project. They must also be able to effectively communicate with stakeholders. By doing these, the product owner can help to ensure that the project is successful and that stakeholders are satisfied with the results.

Key Differences between a Product Owner and a Product Manager

Let us now explore the key distinctions between these two roles. Spoiler alert: while there are some overlapping responsibilities, the PM is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the right things are being built—and that they’re being built in the right way.

Macro Focus

The role of the Product Owner is to focus on what the product should be. They are responsible for gathering requirements from stakeholders, translating these requirements into actionable items for the development team, and ultimately ensuring that the product meets the needs of its users.

In contrast, the Product Manager is responsible for ensuring that the product is profitable. They are responsible for setting pricing, managing marketing and sales efforts, and overseeing all financial aspects of the product. While both roles are essential to the success of a product, they each have a different focus. The Product Owner focuses on what the product should be, while the Product Manager focuses on making sure that the product is financially successful.

Key Responsibilities

In many organizations, the Product Owner and Product Manager roles are combined. However, there are key differences between these two roles that are important to understand. The Product Owner is responsible for the product roadmap and prioritizing features. They also work with stakeholders to ensure that the product meets their needs.

The Product Manager is responsible for overseeing the development process and ensuring that the team is working efficiently. They also work closely with marketing and sales to ensure that the product is launched successfully. In some organizations, the Product Manager may also be responsible for post-launch product management tasks such as customer success and support.

Another key difference between these two roles is that a product manager is typically responsible for developing MVPs (Minimum Viable Products), while a product owner is responsible for epics and user stories. MVPs are small, initial versions of a product that are used to test the feasibility and gather feedback. Epics are large, overarching themes that can be broken down into smaller user stories. User stories are specific, individual tasks that need to be completed in order to achieve an epic. As such, the product manager is responsible for ensuring that the MVPs meet customer needs, while the product owner is responsible for ensuring that all of the necessary work gets done to complete the epics and user stories.

So, Product Manager or Product Owner or both? What does your organization need?

When a company is trying to decide whether to hire a product manager, a product owner, or both, there are a few important questions they should ask themselves. First, what is the size of the team and the product? If the team is small and the product is still in development, it might make sense to just have a product owner. However, if the team is large or the product is more complex, then a product manager might be necessary to help manage all the moving parts. 

Second, what is the company's budget? A product manager will typically cost more than a product owner, so if the budget is tight, hiring a product owner might be the better option. 

Finally, what kind of skills and experience does the company need? If they need someone with strong project management skills and experience bringing products to market, then a product manager would be a better fit. On the other hand, if they need someone with deep knowledge of the customer base and experience working with agile development methodology, then a product owner would be ideal. 

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question - it depends on the specific needs of the organization.

Final Word

Product Managers and Product Owners have different but complementary roles in SAFe. If you’re trying to decide which role is right for you, or if you’re just curious about the distinction, contact us and we can help explain it further. We offer both training and certification in SAFe, so whether you’re just starting out or are looking to deepen your knowledge, we can assist you on your journey to becoming a world-class product leader.

Master high-demand skills that will help you stay relevant in the job market!

Get up to 70% off on our SAFe, PMP, and Scrum training programs.

Let's talk about your project.

Contact Us