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Project Management

What’s the difference between a Project Manager and a Product Manager?

date: 1 February 2022
reading time: 6 min

Project management is one of the most important aspects of business. Being able to deliver projects on schedule, on budget, and conforming to business goals are vitally important for any company to remain competitive in the modern global business environment.


The Basics of Project and Product Management

Equally important is being able to create high-quality products which meet your customers’ needs. Products which elevate your company above its competition and set the market alight.

But just how can companies ensure that such crucial basics are met? By hiring a project manager. Or perhaps they should hire a product manager? Maybe both?


Product Managers Vs Project Managers

Are these roles the same? Both product managers and project managers must possess great leadership skills and demonstrate a high level of confidence to lead their teams to success. They both also need fantastic time management skills to be able to put together a timeline for the project and understand the dependencies of that timeline.

As we can see from these similarities, product managers and project managers are basically the same thing, right? Wrong. For many, the differences between product management and project management may be unclear. While there are overlaps in the skills and responsibilities associated with each, there are some rather large differences associated with each role too.

In short;

Product manager is focused on the what and the why: “What are we building?” and “why are we building it?”.
Project manager is focused on the how and the when: “How can we get a project accomplished?” and “by which time are we to complete it?”.

Still not clear?

Project has time, scope and budget while the product doesn’t have to. A Project Manager may be responsible for delivering MVP of a Product. Once agreed scope is delivered it may mean the end of engagement for a Project Manager and a very beginning of a journey of a Product Manager.

A product manager is responsible for the actual product (be it physical or digital) that a business is creating. They understand the whole product and are responsible for developing the overall strategic plan. A product manager creates the roadmap for the product and must maintain it throughout its life cycle, even after it is released. A product manager is responsible for the continuous development of the product. They are constantly adding features, developing the roadmap, and working on enhancements to their product. Being a product manager is essentially the same as being a mini CEO as it’s highly strategic. They must understand the customer needs and their customer base absolutely.

A project manager, on the other hand, is a very tactile role. They must understand and control the overall execution of a project, including the operations and commercial engagement. Project managers are concerned with achieving their goal of getting a usable product to their customers within a specified timeline. Project managers have a fixed start and end to their projects; their role is not ongoing in the same way that product development is. Project managers break a project down into separate initiatives. They allocate resources and communicate the project’s progress to its stakeholders. Being a project manager is a much more concrete role than being a product manager as it is a one time initiative with the overall goal of “get it done.”


Product Management vs. Project Management in Real Life

The comparison of product management vs project management is important for any business, as it’s essential that companies understand how each role would function in reality within their daily operations. It’s all well and good understanding the basics, but how does a product manager and a project manager fit into the day-to-day running of a modern company?

Product managers spend much of their time understanding the business needs of their products. Product management is an externally facing role which involves regular interaction with customers. On a day-to-day basis, this means that product managers are in marketing research for their products, always striving to understand the market and their customers’ needs better and create a product that meets their sales metrics.

In comparison, project management generally involves working within internal teams in the business. Project managers are focused on getting the project implemented within a set timeframe and rolling out the product to their customers. Project managers work with their colleagues to break down, manage, and implement tasks, manage the project’s resources, lead meetings to coordinate their teams, and track strategy KPIs that contribute to business objectives.

Two key aspects for any company are marketing and production. But how does development compare with marketing? What is the difference between marketing and production? Responsibility for the development of a product ultimately falls to the product manager.

They understand the whole product from top to bottom. In order to create the product, the product manager must research carefully, set the product vision, and communicate it to the stakeholders and develop a strategic plan. Project may be a fraction of a product or it may be the other way around – a project may be an initiative which affects multiple Products.

Marketing and production overlap at times, but they are largely distinctly different. Marketing may involve promoting a product to potential customers and gathering data from them regarding their needs and satisfaction levels. Whereas, development is concerned with the practical development of a product, which is driven by the marketing data. This is where the product managers and project managers must collaborate together as each will drive the other.


Conclusion: What is the Best Fit for You?

Being a product manager or a project manager are two different animals entirely. So which one would suit you best? That depends on a number of factors. It’s important to consider what makes you happy in a job: are you someone who enjoys variety in your work and thrives on meeting strict deadlines? Or are you someone who loves really delving into every single nook and cranny to create the best possible product? Your answer to these questions will determine whether being a product manager or project manager is the best fit for you.

Being a product manager involves high levels of strategic thinking and management. It is highly tactile and requires you to be hugely detail-oriented.

  • Are you someone who enjoys examining every aspect of a product?

  • Do you thrive on continuously developing a product, problem solving its issues, and focusing long term on one single product?

Then perhaps being a product manager is the best position for you.

On the other hand, perhaps you’re the type of person who needs variety in your work. You might prefer to ride the wave of an intense, fixed timeline in which, come hell or high water, the project must be completed.

  • Do you thrive on tight deadlines?

  • Do you actually work better under extreme stress and impossible conditions?

  • Are you simply someone who gets the job done and can always deliver on their promises?

Then, being a project manager is for you.

Whichever path you choose, the chances are that you’ll always work in close proximity to each other. A company without a product manager lacks vision and will struggle to find clear direction. A company without a project manager will lack the ability to deliver their product on time and coordination between departments will suffer heavily. At the end of the day, both product managers and project managers are crucial members of any successful company. The only question is, which are you?

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