Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Manager vs. ?


Titles are an interesting concept. They give outsiders a feel for who we are and what we do. They imply authority (or lack thereof) within an organization. Most of all, titles provide context for the world around us.

“Manager” is an interesting title. It carries all sorts of baggage from the past. Its meaning changes depending on the word that precedes it. An account manager is different from a store manager. Even within the title of “store manager” the scope and breadth of responsibility varies widely. The manager of a 7-Eleven has significantly different responsibilities than the manager of a Costco store.

Much has been written on the topic of “manager” vs. “leader” over the years. In many cases “manager” is used as a pejorative. The “manager” is the person who makes sure people follow the processes (good or bad) that have been put in place. The “manager” is the person everyone quips about. Leader, on the other hand, implies someone who’s out in front setting the direction for a group or an an organization. The leader focuses on moving towards a higher, more valuable goal. The leader inspires his or her followers to do great things. Seth Godin covers this concept nicely in his book Tribes. He writes that everyone has the ability and opportunity to be a leader, but it’s a choice each has to make. Leadership is more about the state of mind than the title. Leadership is a choice.

The Product Management Perspective: Much has been written about product owner vs. product manager. I’ve always considered myself the latter. To me, “product owner” was just an agile title for the guy who fed requirements into the dev team.

I recently attended a two-day training for product owners and I have to admit my view of the titles is changing. I won’t go into the details of the jobs by title; there are books and blogs that cover those nicely. The word “owner” implies a much deeper meaning than just feeding requirements. The owner makes sure his product meets market needs. The owner gets the resources and funding to develop his products. The owner makes sure his products succeed.

Your title doesn’t matter; your attitude does. Become the owner of your products.

5 thoughts on “Manager vs. ?

  1. Mike – great post. Titles will always change, unless you are managing a 7-11. In product management, I believe they have to change in order to evolve.

    Your insight on “managing” versus “owning” is interesting. I think about the things I manage (personal finances, household, a team of people). However, when you own something, that’s different. Do you own a product like you own a car (if you have the title in-hand)?

    Perhaps a person that is watching over a product on a daily basis, but not really committed to its growth and success is a product manager, but a person who having more “skin in the game” should be a product owner. What do you think?

    • Jim, I think we (in PM) have unfortunately fallen victim to old titles that have just stuck around. I agree with your take on the PM “skin in the game.” If you’re not committed to your product (and I’ve known PM’s who weren’t) then you are definitely not an “owner” by my definition.


  2. “The owner makes sure his product meets market needs. The owner gets the resources and funding to develop his products. The owner makes sure his products succeed.”

    This could be a conflation of responsibility.
    I agree wholeheartedly with the notion of taking ownership, do we need to do more around delineation of responsibilities to avoid in-fighting?

    • Justin, thanks for the comment. The delineation of responsibilities depends on the size of the company. The bigger, the more focused the roles. My primary point here is that we (PMs) need to really own what goes on with our products, and not just manage processes. If we do the latter we quickly lose control of product direction.


  3. Pingback: Manager vs. ? « BirNunez Blog

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