Product Manager vs. Project Manager: Is there a difference?

Product Manager vs. Project Manager

Product and Project Managers are essential in every organization. Why? Let’s discover the roles and responsibilities of a Product Manager vs. a Project Manager and how they can help organizations succeed.

Product and project managers are two of the most crucial roles in a software development organization. One helps initiate the creation of products; the other helps deliver them. While these two roles frequently overlap, people sometimes mistake them as the same. 

As a result, product and project managers tread a thin line due to the similarities of their job profiles. But in truth, they are two disciplines with significantly different responsibilities, career trajectories, skills, and qualifications.

Let’s explore these two roles further to know the main differences between a Product Manager vs. Project Manager.

Product or Project: What’s the difference?

Product and project manager roles get confusing. But there are ways on how you can determine what they are responsible for. To understand the main concepts between the two roles, let’s first differentiate between a product and a project. 

What is a product?

A product is something built or created to satisfy a need. It can be a type of service, food, clothing, or software. Products try to achieve tangible benefits for those who created them. It could be acquiring customers, generating profit for the business, or completing a business goal. 

Product management oversees products under the development phase in an organization. This includes managing the product lifecycle, from analysis to release management

What is a project?

Projects are activities or tasks required to accomplish a defined goal. They are time-bound plans that include inputs and outputs.

The purpose of project management is to help teams organize, track, and execute the requirements to be completed. The team needs to accomplish these deliverables within a defined time frame.

On the other hand, product management is continuous throughout the product life cycle. With these, let’s explore the differences between a Product and a Project Manager.

Key Differences between Product Manager vs. Project Manager

The lines between the two roles may overlap, especially if you work with a small team. That would be fine. But as you scale your team, there can’t be too many cooks in the kitchen. That’s when you need to distinguish which hats one wears.

Organizations must learn to differentiate between a Product Manager vs. Project Manager to get optimal results. This will also help executives manage expectations and determine who is accountable for specific tasks. Let’s jump in and learn more about these two roles.

Who is a Product Manager?

A Product Manager is the one who owns the product life cycle. They are responsible for defining and handling the product to be launched. They also decide what to build next and what to prioritize in the software.

Product Managers coordinate with the research and development team to strategize what features will help users better. They protect the product vision and decide on product improvements based on user insights. The primary responsibilities of a Product Manager include the following:

1. Defines and Communicates the Product Vision

Product Managers set the tone of the product goal. They remind the team and stakeholders about the motivation behind building the product. Also, they are responsible for aligning the team with the product vision. 

2. Representatives to Users

It is beneficial for the company and the development team to deliver products that impact the real world. To do that, Product Managers must spend time conceptualizing products that can address the needs and wants of their users.

The Product Manager’s role is to champion their users along the product development process. They should be able to give direct answers to questions like:

  • What is the purpose of my product?
  • Does the product help create solutions to user challenges?
  • What challenges will the product solve?
  • Who are the target users for the product?
  • How will it be implemented?
  • Who will develop the product?
  • How will you market the product?
  • What can we do better to compete against competitors?
  • What are the metrics for product success?

Product Managers need to know the answers to these critical questions. This will help them get the support they need to complete product development.

3. Leads Product Research and Ideation

Research is part of a Product Manager’s role. They need to research so that they can set the strategies in place. Also, they will be able to collect valuable information that will help in the ideation process.

Product Managers can acquire data from the following sources:

  • Competitor study
  • Users or target market
  • Reviews, requests, and feedback

After careful review, new ideas are added to the product plan. It is good practice to share this information with all stakeholders.

4. Creates Actionable Product Roadmaps

Project Managers build product roadmaps to help stakeholders understand the end goal of the product. This includes the detailed product strategy, priorities, changes, and milestones. The Product Manager’s responsibility is to keep the product roadmap up to date.

Additionally, product roadmaps help ensure the work is aligned with the organizational goals. Some teams like marketing, sales, and the development team need to be aware of priorities. Teams can work independently and crystallize their plans to support the product launch by having a clear product plan.

5. Handles Product Release Planning

There will be many moving parts when it comes to a product launch. Product Managers need support from other teams for the deployment to be successful. Here, they will define the release strategies. Also, Product Managers coordinate the activities that bring the product to the market.

Developing and launching new products poses unique challenges. Product Managers need to be ready in facing impediments like:

  • Correcting failures in product development
  • Handling communication lines between teams
  • Sticking to a specific product launch schedule
  • Sourcing materials from vendors or the development team

A Project Manager also uses the product roadmap to specify product requirements. So what happens from there? 

The timelines and other activities that need to be accomplished are the responsibilities of Project Managers. Let’s explore the roles associated with the Project Manager position.

Who is a Project Manager?

Project Managers instigate change within teams. In other words, they use their skills to lead teams and inspire them. They guide teams to deliver projects within a specific time frame and budget. 

Project Managers support Product Managers in the following areas:

  • Delegating the right people who can work on a project
  • Set a production schedule with set time frames, deliverables, and budget
  • Provide frequent updates on product development and challenges

It is important to note that project management requires multi-tasking skills. This is because you might be managing multiple projects simultaneously in one organization. Other than that, project management will entail the following set of responsibilities:

1. Strategic Planner

Planning is essential in project management because this helps the team stick to a defined schedule and budget. Project Managers make sure that they create a realistic plan to meet their product goals. 

Project Managers also need to understand how the project will impact the business. They make sure that they do not waste time and resources. Also, they should be able to integrate broad business goals into the production process. That way, they will align fulfillment strategies with the project scope and deliverables.

There are a lot of project planning tools they can use, like Asana, Monday, or Trello. Here, Project Managers will assign tasks, determine timelines and milestones, check progress, and even generate progress reports. These tools help Project Managers identify blockers and find ways to resolve any impediments.

2. Lead a team

Being a project manager means you also must be a good leader. This is necessary because they need to motivate the team to complete the project. Keeping the team aligned with the project goal and timelines is the key to success.

3. Organized and has excellent time management skills

Since projects have a schedule, Project Managers are accountable for keeping the team on track. If there are any delays, they need to determine the cause, ask for support, and speak with the stakeholders.

That said, they also need to identify possible risks. Risk management is one of the most critical responsibilities of a Project Manager. 

Project management is a complex role. Like product management, they also have unique challenges that include:

  • Owning and tracking project risks
  • Keeping the team on track of their schedule
  • Working with Product Managers
  • Solving specific problems on project changes
  • Keeping up to date with the market trends

In conclusion, Product Managers determine where the product will go. They create strategic decisions on how to serve product users and create revenue. Also, they need to focus on creating and developing a product. 

On the other hand, Project Managers help support the product vision by guiding teams who will develop them. They wield ideas into actionable items which create products. Finally, they must be able to negotiate between teams to push visions into reality.

The success of a product comes with having an effective Product and Project Manager. Making sure they know their functions and how they support each other will help develop successful products.

How these Two Roles Come Together

We now know that Product Manager and Project Manager roles often overlap.  In smaller organizations, only one person might fulfill these two roles. But that doesn’t mean that all organizations should do the same thing. 

Product Managers have a different set of responsibilities compared to Project Managers. Though it is possible to merge product and project manager roles, there will be a push and pull between prioritizing and organizing. Some key areas that their positions might overlap are:

  1. Shifting between big picture strategies to managing smaller tasks that help ship products and projects.
  2. Both managers need communication, management, leadership, and organizational skills to be effective in their roles.
  3. Working with the same stakeholders where they request resources and give updates. 

Having a clearly defined product plan helps teams in determining roles and avoid overlaps. The purpose of project management is to support the plans set by the product manager. Communication is key to making sure the product and project manager are aligned.

Product and Project Managers must engage with each other with any updates. By doing so, they keep the product vision and business goals at the center of their work.

Choosing What Role Fits Your Staff Best

Guiding your employees is one way to become a successful organization. With that, you need to advocate for your employees to help them decide on which path to take.

One way of doing that is to determine the valuable skills they already possess. Working with employees who already have leadership talent inspires growth for everyone in the organization. It is even important when hiring someone at a managerial level.

When looking for a Product Manager, you need someone who can analyze research data and provide high-level strategies for optimal product success. You need someone who can help innovate and strategize how products remain helpful to their users. In order to share the vision with stakeholders, they must be able to create a product plan. 

If you spot someone who is excellent at time management and can lead teams, you can encourage them to become Project Managers. Not only that, they must understand the purpose of project management in a business sense. This role works for people who are passionate about leadership.

In conclusion, product and project manager roles are essential in any organization. Without proper research initiated by Product Managers, there wouldn’t be new products out in the market. Additionally, without the help of an effective Project Manager, businesses might not be able to launch products on time. Getting the right people will help you build quality products launched into the market!

Hire a Product Manager and Project Manager with Us!

Hiring for both specialized roles can be daunting, especially if you don’t know where to look. You need access to a global talent pool to find qualified candidates to be a Product or Project Manager.

At Full Scale, we help our clients access a global talent pool with the right qualifications. Hiring a Product Manager and Project Manager is easier. All you have to do is browse through candidate profiles and set up an interview. It’s that simple!

We also train our employees to keep them up to date with the latest industry trends. You can be sure that the resources you hire have the expertise to help you reach your business goals. 

Talk to us and let us know how we can help fix staffing problems for you to get the right business results.

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