Different Manager Titles

Question: "On LinkedIn groups I often see discussions attempting to clarify different manager titles. Mostly it is about Product Manager vs. Product Owner vs. Program Manager vs. Project Manager. What is the difference between these roles? Are they different, same or overlap?"

Answer: The domains and associated titles referred to are well-established and have been in existence for decades. Unfortunately, various market dynamics and skewed corporate interpretations have created a situation where the titles have to a certain degree become meaningless.

Product Manager is a title given to a job container which holds two or more roles. The Product Manager title has become a catch-all phrase for a multitude of shifting responsibilities which also include tasks offloaded from other corporate functions. At many startups and companies, product management and product manager have become euphemisms for nearly anything and everything. One of the main roles in the Product Management domain is the Product Planner. At many companies the Product Manager title means the Product Planner role plus several other roles.

When using the Scrum Software Development method, Product Owner is just the relabeled role of a Software Project Manager. The basic premises in Scrum are to re-label and to generalize. That is why the former requirements documents are now aggregated into one backlog, why each developer must do everything and is titled only as Developer, and why the Software Project Manager was relabeled as Product Owner and tacked with different responsibilities that were hijacked from other critical roles in the organization.

All Agile-inspired software development methods, such as Scrum, DSDM, Crystal, FDD, and XP, reside in the solution space (designing and building a product). Agile-based software development methods are not product management methodologies since the product management domain resides in the problem space (identifying and articulating market problems, from a product planning perspective). Therefore, the Product Owner role is wholly unrelated to the Product Manager title.  The new Agile-inspired software development methods are built on different principles than Scrum.

The Program Manager role is an encompassing, company-wide managerial role that is responsible for and leads a product delivery program (project). It means that this role synchronizes all internal activities, people and functions in a company so that they all work in unison to bring a product to market. The Program Manager is the "Product CEO" and this role is also present in the Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF) Team Model.

A Project is a time, quality, and budget constrained planned activity to meet a defined objective. Accordingly, a Project Manager is the role that oversees and coordinates the application of resources along the timeline to help reach the project's defined objective.

There is no intrinsic overlapping between Product Manager, Product Owner, Program Manager, and Project Manager because they are well-defined and delineated. The blurred lines and confusion have occurred because of the generalization of roles that has taken place at companies.