Product Manager vs Project Manager

Product Role

Product Manager vs Project Manager

It’s very common for the role of a Product Manager to be confused with that of a Project Manager, and understandably so since there are only two letters that differentiate the titles. And though the titles are very similar, the skills and responsibilities for each role are very different. The best way to sum up the difference is that a Product Manager focuses on strategy and a Project Manager focuses on execution. Let’s take a deeper look at the two roles.

A Product Manager is responsible for creating a vision for the product and a strategy around that vision. It’s important for the Product Manager to have an understanding of current trends in the market so that the Product is successful. Once the vision and strategy are in place, the Product Manager is now ready to lead the team in the creation of this vision. A great strategy will have three pillars, a vision, a roadmap, and KPI’s. A Product Manager is primarily thinking big picture.

Product Managers are responsible for the following:

  • Strategy
  • Releases
  • Ideation
  • Planning
  • Prioritization
  • Go-to-market

There are three key components of Product Management:

1. Opportunity Discovery

This is where you look at the dynamics of what is possible in the market. What are the current trends? Have there been any recent disruptions in the market? Is there a gap in the market that you can fill?

2. Product Planning

Begin by defining your “North Star”. With the “North Star” in place, you create a roadmap of the vision and break it down into small achievable goals.

3. Product Development

This is the development stage, where the Product Manager sits with the engineers, and User Experience Designers and lays out the roadmap so that the product can come to life.

Project Manager

By comparison, a Project Manager is responsible for executing the vision that is presented by the Product Manager. A good Project Manager is very skilled at risk assessment, by managing uncertainty. The overall goal for a Project Manager is to execute a project with planning, monitoring, budget and risk analysis. While a Project Manager is detail-oriented, it is essential that a Project Manager think both big and small to bring the project in on time, and under budget.

Project Managers are responsible for the following:

  • Budget
  • Scheduling
  • Resources
  • Risk Analysis
  • Cross – Team Organization
  • Problem Resolution
  • Status Updates

While it’s clear the roles of the Product Manager and Project Manager are very different, the lines in practice can become blurred since the Product Manager is responsible for the success of the product and must fill gaps to keep things moving forward. Often times Product Managers will be asked to take on the role of Project Managers. There are a number of activities where this may occur, but Project Management, in particular, is common. 

There is one other key difference to consider between Product and Project Management – process.  Project Management is essential for large Waterfall projects, but oftentimes in modern Product development, teams are doing small-batch Agile iterations to build, measure, and test in quick loops. In this context, you’ll rarely find a Project Manager. Where there is Project Management responsibility amongst an Agile team, those responsibilities are shared amongst the team, the ScrumMaster, and Product Manager. Even still, there are inevitably larger cross-team projects that require additional coordination of a fixed time/scope endeavor, and that’s typically where the Project Manager will enter the picture.  

Hopefully, this explanation clarifies the difference between the roles of Product Manager and Project Manager. As you can see both of the roles are critical for the success of the product. If either one of these breaks down, it would be impossible to deliver a finished product on time, under budget, and with all of the elements necessary for the market to embrace it.

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