Project Manager vs Product Manager – which one are you?

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project manager vs product manager
Posted on Tuesday, 18th February, 2020 - 10:07

Quite often the terms project manager and product manager are mistakenly used interchangeably, despite carrying out different tasks and responsibilities. While both involve managing something, what they’re managing makes all the difference. We discuss the differences between project management and product management to help tackle this confusion.

Project vs Product

Firstly, it’s important to understand the difference between a project and a product. A project is temporary, with a clear definition of activities and timeframe for delivery, whereas a product creates continuous value for customers and doesn’t necessarily have a set timeframe. This is largely because customers’ needs evolve on a daily, even hourly, basis so products have to keep up with their expectations.

Project Programme
Time-bound (beginning and end date) No set timeframe
Temporary, short-term project team More permanent, long-term project team
One-off delivery Continuous development
Set plan Vision

Project Manager responsibilities

Project managers are responsible for breaking down strategic plans into actionable, task-orientated initiatives. They oversee the entire delivery of a project and make sure it’s completed within a set period of time, set budgets and resources. Essentially, they put the plan into action, monitor its progress and make sure it succeeds.

Sounds simple right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Managing the scope of a project is a very challenging task, as you must align and allocate time, budgets and resources, whilst managing the project team and any issues or risks that may emerge. It’s safe to say it takes a very organised individual to deliver a project on time and within the specified budget.

Product Manager responsibilities

Product managers are focussed on creating a product that customers need and want. They are responsible for managing the entire lifecycle of the product and creating a vision of the products’ future. As mentioned previously, customers’ needs and expectations change on a daily basis. That means continuous development and agility are key concepts that govern a product manager’s job role.

Creating a product roadmap is also a key responsibility. This essentially maps out the path to meet the product vision, detailing the specific steps that need to be taken by the product team. However, once the product is finished, the product manager’s job doesn’t stop there. Beyond creation, they are in charge of monitoring the product’s progress and continuous development with market research and promotion.

Project Manager’s skills

Project managers are mainly concerned with execution and adopt a goal-orientated viewpoint. They ask the who, when and how questions. They are the main decision-makers and must collect and evaluate data to make evidence-based decisions. Communication is vital, as not only are they communicating with their project team, but also external stakeholders. The project team needs a strong and clear leader, while other stakeholders require regular updates, keeping everyone informed and happy. Planning, organisation, risk management and even conflict management, are all skills they must have under their belt.

Product Manger’s skills

Product managers need to be more creative in their thinking as they aim to create a product strategy that drives value for their customers as well as the business. Concerned with the ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions, they have to put themselves in the customers’ shoes to create a voice that represents an entire group. This requires empathy and curiosity to immerse yourself into the user’s world and gain a deeper understanding of what they need/desire. This understanding also follows on to problem solving skills, as many products are produced in order to solve a particular problem. So, being a great problem solver and thinking outside the box are both vital skills for a product manager.

Do they overlap?

Even though project managers and product managers carry out different tasks and responsibilities, there are certain aspects and skills that overlap. Both must be good communicators and leaders, regularly report back to the relevant stakeholders/clients and have good industry knowledge to make decisions and create a successful product.

If you want to develop your current project management career, then a PMP certification is the perfect qualification. The gold standard in project management, PMP proves you have a complete understanding of the project processes and best practices. Start applying for your PMP certification today.