Project Manager vs Product Manager
Project manager vs product manager is something that organizations continue to struggle with differentiating.
This is one of the most common questions asked when these two roles are being discussed, and with good reason.
These two roles can be confusing, but it is vital that they are understood and in this article, we will aim to clear up the confusion.
Project vs. Product
As a starting point, the words product and project, let us start by defining them.
The Collins dictionary gives product the following, ‘A product is something that is produced and sold in large quantities, often as a result of a manufacturing process.‘
A product goes through a lifecycle, being developed, launched, and grown until it matures, and finally retired when no longer needed.
The Oxford dictionary defines a project as follows, ‘A project is a planned piece of work that is designed to find information about something, to produce something new, or to improve something‘
The goal of a project is about creating a product or service. It comes with a start and end date, and a defined outcome. Here are some loosely defined stages — initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and control, and closure.
Compared to a project, a product evolves and adapts to the user’s needs. Meaning, it may take several projects to maintain or improve.
With regards to skills sets, both roles will tend to overlap (depending on the type of company or sector), since both roles will focus on things such as leadership, time management, and planning.
Next, let us take a closer look at how the differences play out when it comes to roles and responsibilities.
What does a product manager do?
The role of the product manager is to drive the development of products, with a strategic focus on what gets developed and will ultimately provide the most value.
- Setting the product vision
- Vision communication to key stakeholder(s)
- Strategic plan development
- Developing and maintaining the product roadmap
What does a project manager do?
The role of the project manager is often to oversee and drive the execution of plans that have already been developed and approved.
- Breaking down initiatives (or user stories) into tasks
- Planning project timelines
- Allocating project resources
- Monitoring task completion
- Communicating progress to stakeholders
Project manager vs. product manager - 5 major differences
Outlined below are 5 of the main differences between a project and a product manager.
It is all about the product for product managers
A product manager has lots of responsibilities. However, they are focused on product-orientated tasks such as product strategy, product vision, product roadmap, product goals, and overseeing product teams.
Product managers focus on making a specific product successful. A project manager does not prioritize one product over the rest of their responsibilities. In addition, a project manager deals with managing budgets, and the productivity of their teams.
Varied skillsets can determine success for project and product managers
Many of the skills you pick up as a project or product manager can be transferred to a variety of roles. Key functions vary, however, resulting in the requirement of slightly different skillsets.
As a product manager it is important:
- Master research skills — research heavily impacts a decision to build a product that meets user needs and solves pain points
- Utilize strategic thinking — the product development process of analysis impacts product development and prioritizes activities according to what needs to be delivered first
- Be business smart — successful product managers understand competitors, and market trends to ensure a product is viable.
Alternatively, as a project manager it is more about:
- Planning: Building a detailed project plan is key. It involves thinking about tasks that need to be completed before the project is over, as well as key milestones.
- Organization: Being organized and keeping track of project elements ensures processes run smoothly and tasks are completed.
- Time management: Project managers need to use time wisely to ensure that all tasks are delivered within certain deadlines.
Product managers define success differently to project managers. The two have different ideas of what success looks like since they are looking for different outcomes.
Product managers aim to create a product that will fulfill a customer’s needs and wants. On the other side of the product manager vs project manager debate, the ideal outcome for a project manager is to complete the project on time, and on budget.
For a product manager, their priority is the product. Their ideal outcome is to create a winning product, monitor its progress, and develop it over time to suit the customer’s needs.
However, a project manager may judge their success on the skills of their team whilst delivering in a timely manner.
Scope of work
Over the course of a year, a project manager may work on several different projects. Project managers need to have a wide vision and be able to easily jump between projects.
As a product manager, you have to focus on every little detail and ensure your team is able to deliver an excellent product.
Ultimately, the scope of your role as a product manager or a project manager depends on the organization and the industry
A day in the life of a project manager/product manager
A day in the life of a project manager will likely involve more administrative and organizational meetings than a product manager. Equally, the day-to-day tasks of a product manager may include more:
- Data analysis
- Technical trouble-shotting
- Product development meetings
- Product backlog management
These tasks will also depend on the stage of the process. At the start of a product’s lifecycle, a product manager may have more creative and hands-on tasks. When a product has already been delivered, the day-to-day tasks for a product manager will be more about maintenance and market research.
The product manager sets the vision for the product, gathers requirements, and prioritizes them, while the project manager acts upon this vision and makes sure that it is executed on time and on budget. Whilst both roles are complementary, they are both very distinct at the same time.
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