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The Difference Between Product and Project Management

Product management and project management are both essential concepts for companies aiming to stay competitive in today’s business landscape. However, project management and product management are often confused by even the most experienced business professionals.

In this article, you will learn:

  • The definitions of product management and project management
  • The distinct differences between product management and project management
  • The responsibilities of Product Managers and Project Managers

Products vs. Projects

Product management and project management are complementary but distinct.

In order to fully understand the differences between these functions, 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 life 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 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.

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 these customer needs.

With products, there are no clear deadlines. A customer expects 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.

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.

What is a Product Manager?

Successful Product Managers take complete responsibility for the overall and continuous success of a product throughout the ENTIRE product lifecycle.

It is the responsibility of a Product Manager to focus on the “what” more than the “how.” This means that his or her job 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 a Product Manager is to aim to maximize value and create new revenue streams.

Responsibilities that fall under a Product Manager include:

  • 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

What is a Project Manager?

A Project Manager is responsible for the successful delivery of a project within a specific deadline and budget. Project Managers oversee and manage the development of the product by aligning available resources and managing issues and risks.

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.

The ultimate goal of a Project Manager is to aim to maximize 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 like Invisionapp, Dashable, Basecamp, Trello, and Github.

Explaining The Dynamic Between Project Managers and Product Managers

A Project Manager is akin to a midwife. The person in this role delivers the project and moves 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.

Conclusion

Product and project management are similar concepts, but in order to create a successful product, you need to understand how these concepts differ.

Project management focuses internally to achieve specific objectives and complete 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 the product and project manager roles, it’s ideal to separate these roles to avoid conflicts of interest and underperformance.

In your company, does one person take on both the role of product and project manager? Have you had difficulties distinguishing between the concepts of product and project management in the past?

Other insights about the topic? Tweet us or shoot us an email at mvp@koombea.com!

Kate Swanberg Product Specialist

Loves building apps, getting users & keeping them. Data-driven marketer with a strong background on project management.