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7 minutes read

Product Manager Vs. Project Manager: What are the Differences?

By Jose Gomez
A team working on a project management software tool.
By Jose Gomez
Other
7 minutes read

Project management and product management are very important yet distinct tasks, and the roles of project managers and product managers are often interchangeably confused by all levels of business executives. In today’s competitive business world, you need steady and experienced management professionals to guide your strategies.

Hiring a product manager when your organization requires a project management professional can lead to poor results for your development team and business. As a result, it is vital to understand how a product manager differs from a project manager.

In this article, you will learn about the definitions and differences between product management and its counterpart project management, and the responsibilities of product managers and project managers. Hopefully, it will help you understand the intricacies and nuances of the product manager vs. project manager debate.

Products Vs. Projects

Project management and product management are complimentary but distinct tasks; that probably explains the ongoing product manager vs project manager question. In order to fully understand the differences between these roles, one must first understand the difference between a product and a project.

A product is anything that can be offered to a market to solve a problem, or to satisfy a want or need. Products have a cycle that consists of multiple stages. First, the product is conceived, then developed, then introduced and managed in the market, and finally, the product is retired when the need for it diminishes. A product team usually develops products.

A project is a temporary endeavor that is undertaken to create a unique product or service. With a project, there is a clear definition of what needs to be delivered by a specified date in time. As in the previous item, projects are usually carried out by a project team. 

It’s important to note that a product can only be developed within the context of a project, and multiple projects can occur within a product’s life cycle. Unlike with a project, with a product, there is no clear definition of what has to be delivered. Customer needs naturally evolve over time, and products must evolve to serve customer needs. Project and product managers must understand this clearly.

With products, there are no clear deadlines or end dates, so product managers move around in a unique way. Customers expect a product to meet their needs right now, not at some distant point in the future. Thus, product development is not a temporary or occasional endeavor. It is a continuous process of delivering new features and improving a given product over time to satisfy changing user needs.

Defining Product Management and Project Management

Product management is an organizational function within a company that deals with the planning, forecasting, and production or marketing of a product or products at all stages of the product life cycle.

Project management, on the other hand, consists of the application of processes, methods, knowledge, skills, and experience to achieve the objectives of a specific project.

These two functions are not to be confused with program management. Program managers, as its name suggests, manage programs, a whole different concept that is outside the scope of this article.

What Is a Product Manager?

Successful product managers take complete responsibility for a product’s overall and continuous success throughout the entire product lifecycle. To do this, there are many skills product managers should have, like time management, problem-solving, and the ability to effectively manage employee scheduling. Most importantly, there are certain things a product manager should focus on.

The role of the product manager is to carry out the product strategy and market research, focusing more on the “what” instead of the “how.” This means that the job of a product manager is to take a long-term view and decide what direction the product should grow in based on the evolutionary trajectory of customer needs.

The ultimate goal of product managers is to maximize value and create new revenue streams.

Product managers are responsible for:

  • Gathering and prioritizing product and customer requirements
  • Defining the product vision
  • Working with sales and marketing to ensure revenue and customer satisfaction goals are met

A product manager oversees all business strategies related to a specific product. A product manager owns the big picture. The product manager’s role requires them to meet business objectives and customer needs simultaneously.

What Is a Project Manager?

Project managers focus on the successful delivery of a project within a specific deadline and budget, with a clear beginning and end, ideally following a product roadmap. Project managers oversee and manage the development of the product by aligning available resources and managing issues and risks until project completion.

One of the most difficult tasks for a project manager is managing the scope of the project, as they must balance time, cost, and quality. For example, if the deadline of a project is shortened, project managers must either increase costs or reduce the scope in order to maintain quality.

A project manager focuses on maximizing quality while minimizing risk.

Responsibilities that fall under a project manager include:

  • Building a product
  • Adding new features to an existing product
  • Creating new versions or extensions of a product
  • Managing a team of designers and developers, and tracking their work
  • Keeping the project on time and within budget while giving transparency to the client
  • Using a variety of project management tools to accomplish their task. These include apps like Invisionapp, Dashable, Basecamp, Trello, and Github.

Traditionally, this role requires having an industry-standard certification. Some of this may be related to Scrum or given by the Project Management Institute. Project managers benefit from certifications such as the “PMP Certification“, but the most valuable thing project managers can possess is experience project planning and delivering results.

Explaining The Dynamic Between Project Managers and Product Managers

A project manager is akin to a midwife. The project manager’s role is to deliver the project and move on to the next one. He or she cares for the product up until the product is delivered, and then hands the responsibility over to the ‘mother’ (in this case, the product manager).

The product manager is similar to the mother in this situation because he or she conceives the idea, develops it for months, eventually brings the product to market, and is responsible for it until it becomes obsolete.

Both roles ultimately respond to the executive team, which oversees the entire process, making sure that business objectives are met. This can make both professions akin to frontline management, as they’re the bridge between upper management and frontline employees. Product and project managers might both use similar project management software, but their roles differ.

Conclusion

Project and product management are similar concepts. Both tasks require problem solvers and leaders, but in order to create a successful product, you need to understand how these business roles differ. Only by doing so will you guarantee your business goals. 

Project management focuses internally on achieving specific objectives and completing a given project on time and under budget. Once the project is completed, it is no longer ‘managed.’

Product management takes a broader view and focuses externally on the customer and the overall and continued success of the project.

Although it’s possible to have one person fill both of these managerial roles, it’s ideal to separate these roles to avoid conflicts of interest and underperformance. Also, this allows for better allocation of project resources and a clearer project timeline. 

In your company, does one person take on both the role of product and project manager? How many product managers do you have? Have you had difficulties distinguishing between the two concepts laid out in this article? If so, you might want to consider working with an expert who might take care of your software project. 

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