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Project Manager vs. Product Manager: Key Differences Explained

Updated: Dec 13, 2023


project-manager-vs-product-manager

A variety of management roles can be found in the world of management. Some of these roles can be confusing. That's why we need a project vs. product manager comparison to understand the differences.


These two roles serve separate purposes. While both jobs may intersect in some cases, they are both necessary for doing an established product work. Overseeing is generally the role of both program and product managers.


Here, we'll explore the differences between product and program managers using a project manager vs. product manager approach. Let's begin.


What's the Difference Between a Project Manager vs. Product Manager


A product manager's primary responsibility is leading the team to deliver the final product. Their responsibilities include strategy, product roadmap, and feature definition.


A product manager is also responsible for managing the product life cycle for delivering that product. Additionally, they supervise the product team. Product managers can also work directly with project managers, customers, and product teams.


Project managers are responsible for leading the team toward a successful outcome. Strategy and process flow are their responsibilities. They are responsible for the project plan and requirements.


Moreover, the project manager manages a separate project life cycle. As a project manager they're also responsible for overseeing a team of people. Product managers can work directly with project managers. In addition, they can work directly with customers, project teams, and product teams.


It is possible to compare both roles to the role of a CEO. The scope of control, complexity, and extent of responsibility, as well as whether it includes profit and loss statements and forecasts, will determine the amount of responsibility.


There can also be conflict in a couple of areas:


The first question is, who is responsible for creating the product roadmap? It's worth noting that sometimes the project manager also takes ownership of that, but it's something you'd expect to be the product manager's responsibility. The product road map must be owned and managed by the right people.


Next, who gets to speak with the product team or the customer? It can become confusing when too many people visit each other and ask for input or status updates. Managing your product or project is easier with CEO-ME's project management software.


A Quick Introduction to Product managers


Product management involves a wide range of responsibilities, tasks, and stakeholders. A product manager uncovers what users want, prioritizes what to build, and guides the team to achieve it. Product managers perform the following tasks:


  • Researching user needs and discovering critical insights

  • Developing a long-term vision and strategy for the product

  • Establishing a cohesive product roadmap and focusing the team on the desired outcome

  • Choosing which features to build next

  • Providing customers with functional and appealing features

  • Work with partners, external stakeholders, and the product team to ensure alignment on strategy and direction


Product managers manage the entire product lifecycle from customer discovery to delivery. The product manager drives product strategy using customer insight, product knowledge, and market analysis.


In addition to being a customer advocate, a product manager must be a product visionary, a team champion, and a strategic leader.


Strategy in Product Management


In contrast, product management is a completely different field. Staffing projects and tackling individual project deadlines aren't usually concerns of product managers, nor is budgeting often under their control. Rather than using Gantt charts, they prioritize what's most important for the organization and its strategic objectives. They define the product and explain why it's important to build it. See our product management vs. project management page for a brief overview of the differences between the two.


Product Manager Skills


Product managers should possess the following skills:


  • The ability to prioritize various tasks, goals and more is essential.

  • Budgeting skills are essential for effectively managing resources.

  • Product development frameworks and processes should be well understood.

  • It is imperative to possess excellent communication skills in order to speak with stakeholders, consumers, members of the team, and executives.

  • To quickly resolve any issues, it is critical to be proficient with various project management tools like Microsoft Project and CEO-ME.

  • Product managers may need additional skills in some industries and organizations depending on the product.


A Quick Introduction to Project Managers


Project managers oversee a successful project from start to finish, taking care of the budget, scope, and timeline. They prioritize completing a project according to schedule, budget, and scope, as time and budget allow.


Project managers are responsible for managing the project team and task lists, ensuring that deliverables meet the defined scope and deadline, and allotting a budget for the project.


A Project manager's primary responsibilities include:


Create a project idea: Ideas are the basis of every project. Defining that concept and creating a process to take it from conception to reality is a project manager's job. The project manager sets and manages client expectations, develops a detailed project plan, defines the scope, and assigns tasks to team members.


Managing your team: Every aspect of project management is a manager's responsibility, including managing a team that can deliver on the client's vision. The project manager is responsible for providing guidance, training, and coaching for the team.


Track project progress and set deadlines: A project manager must be organized and follow through. To remain aware of the project's progress, the project manager must create an accurate completion timeline.


Resolve issues: Issues arise during every project. Clients and team members often turn to the project manager when something goes wrong, so anticipating hiccups is in this professional's best interest. A project can be controlled by adapting and solving problems.


Keep an eye on the budget: A project manager also manages the budget. They ensure that the project is completed without excessive expenditures. Cost efficiency is a skill that a good project manager possesses.


Maintain client satisfaction: Project managers are the most intimately involved with clients. For this reason, they must keep communication lines open. The project manager is responsible for keeping the client informed about any changes in the timeline of a project, for example.


Assess performance: Following the completion of a project, the project manager must evaluate its efficiency. The data they've gathered along the way allows them to identify shortcomings and plan for future fixes. In addition, this is an occasion to recognize the team members that excelled during the project and build camaraderie.


Project Manager Skills


Project managers should possess the following skills:

  • Leadership skills are essential for managing multiple teams

  • Collaboration requires excellent communication skills and interpersonal abilities

  • The ability to resolve conflicts and manage risks is essential

  • Multiple projects require a single-minded focus

  • The ability to develop strategies and products is essential

  • A good product and sales plan is important

  • Product type and industry may require additional skills.


Product Management vs. Project Management - Considerations


product-management-vs-project-management

Because Product Managers are focused on products, product roadmaps, product strategies, product requirements, and product goals, they are not interested in managing projects. Project Managers should not be product managers since they must manage scope, timelines, and budgets within agreed-upon constraints. If the project manager consistently emphasizes the product over all other elements of the business process, the project may fail (i.e. scope creep leading to burnout of the development team).


Essentially, these two roles cannot be combined due to:


  • Several priorities conflict with each other - one person can't handle everything (even you).

  • It takes two people with complementary skills to fulfill both roles.


Project Manager Certifications vs. Product Manager Certifications


Different certifications exist for project management or product management. For project management, these certifications cover the skills and technical knowledge required.


Product manager certifications cover product development, management, and planning skills and procedures. Product managers follow different career pathways from project managers, so choose the certifications appropriate to your career path and role on a product or project team.


What's the Difference Between Program Managers vs. Project Manager vs. Product Manager


Many colleagues and superiors confuse and combine program managers, product managers, and project managers. In spite of their shared acronym (PM), each job differs from the others.


What are the differences?


The goal of products is to ease users' complaints and facilitate or improve task completion. In addition to having an endpoint, programs encompass several tracks and projects. Unlike initiatives, projects have a defined start and end date.


These job descriptions differ quite a bit due to the differences in the roles they manage. However, program and project managers work together to oversee important initiatives for their organizations, and there is a lot of overlap between them.


Project Management and Product Management Share Many Similarities


Scope, timeline, and budget may all be affected by the PMs. To reiterate, both the product manager and the project manager may impact the scope, timeline, and budget, but they can't both manage these factors.


As an example, let's take a project where a project manager and a product manager collaborate. Product managers come to the table with a scope in mind. Project managers approach the table with a project scope defined within the business map.


The project manager can manage the scope, timeline, and budget by offering the product manager options based on the scope, timeline, and budget.


Product managers focus on how features add value to the product and how they will benefit the product vision. Prioritizing product requirements affects the project scope.


As far as scope is concerned, the project manager is concerned about ensuring that the features are tailored within the allocated budget and timeline. The project manager must manage an increased budget or a new timeline if the scope changes.


Why It's Hard Having Both Roles On The Same Team


A project manager usually deals directly with clients if a product manager is not assigned. The product manager's responsibilities are left to the client stakeholder without a product manager.


You should not expect your client stakeholder to dedicate their full time to your team's project. Most clients only spend a fraction of their day working on your project. Client stakeholders provide insight throughout the product lifecycle, from discovery through design, documentation, testing, and final blessing.


Client stakeholders prioritize the project's product differently than product managers do. Having a product manager focused on maximizing your product's value means much more than a few deliverable reviews and a few sign-offs.


Ideally, a product manager is continuously gathering product and client requirements, defining product needs, and maximizing the value produced from the product. They will stay in touch with the project manager to ensure current scope is executed within budget and on time.


In addition, they will challenge the project manager and project team to do everything they can to deliver as much value as possible in the shortest amount of time. A good project manager listens to and hears out what the product manager has to say. By appropriately managing budgets, timelines, and product team members, they'll ensure that the best quality work is produced. These two roles must communicate effectively.


Based on the client's business goals, the product manager should clearly communicate their needs and prioritize work. With the best interest of both teams in mind, the project manager must understand these needs and priorities.


Project teams will have difficulty completing their task if requirements are not sufficiently defined or understood. If work is reprioritized often or unclearly, the project team loses focus and execution efficiency. For a project to be successful, the product manager and project manager must work together on these fronts.


Benefits Of Having Both Roles On The Same Team


The right combination of responsibilities


With a product manager and project manager on the same team, clients know that a dedicated individual is devoted to ensuring the quality of their product, while another dedicated individual is devoted to ensuring their project is executed on time and within budget. When two people work together, they achieve a shared understanding of how to accomplish the work instead of being pulled in different directions.


Collaboration


Product vs. project managers are often at odds with each other, but cooperation between the two can be beneficial. The product manager should challenge the project manager to prioritize business requirements according to budget and timeline.


In contrast, the project manager should challenge the product manager to consider what is best for the product. Coexistence and productivity are possible if both roles are performed appropriately and separately. Both the product and project may suffer if the roles are not performed properly or disrespectfully.


Having aligned goals


Consider a project that has both a product manager and a project manager.


At least once a week, these individuals should meet independently apart from team meetings to align on project and product development status, prioritize the backlog, and work through any necessary problem-solving together. Product managers have this information to validate their product's progress and its value.


By doing so, the project manager will also have the information they need to plan team execution and assist with time management and how this impacts budget, timeline, and scope.


Project Manager vs. Product Manager: Who Is Better?


project-manager-vs-product-manager

It depends on your priorities if someone is wondering which role is a better fit.


As far as the product is concerned

To optimize the value of a product for its entire life cycle, you need a product manager to manage the product. Sometimes, a project manager may suffice to handle your product's growth and evolution within a given timeline. However, their inherent need to balance the budget, timeline, and scope management may not be the best fit for your product.


As far as the project is concerned

A project manager is useful if the project is one of many related to a single product and focuses on the project's execution and managing the project team. In projects where budgets and timelines aren't important, a product manager can suffice, though they tend to prioritize quality over the timeline, which can result in scope creep.


Frequently Asked Questions


Is it Possible for a Project Manager to Become a Product Manager?

You can make the switch from project management to product management. How do you go about it if you're a project manager looking to transition to product management?


Transitioning to product management requires focusing responsibilities on the following:

  • Work directly on products.

  • Study up on product management.

  • Ask the experts.

  • Build your story.

  • Get out there and interview.


Do Product Owners Have a Higher Status than Project Managers?

As part of their role, the product owner prioritizes the backlog of features and creates user stories for the development team. By clarifying requirements and answering questions, they serve as internal customer experts. Overseeing and meeting deadlines is the responsibility of the project manager.


Does the Product Manager Report to the Project Manager?

Even though product managers and project managers often work together on the same initiatives, their responsibilities are usually different.


Do Product Managers Have a Stressful Job?

Careers in product management aren't for everyone. It may be stressful to be a product manager if you require structure and predictability. However, working on products used by millions of people around the world can be extremely fulfilling as a product manager.


Conclusion


There is no doubt at the end of the day that the project manager vs. product manager roles is different and equally valuable in their own respects. They can coexist and execute valuable projects separately. The scope of a project can be impacted by both a Product Manager and a Project Manager. However, their priorities may differ.


As long as all roles do their part, growth will be inevitable. Subscribing to the newsletter and joining our business community blog will keep you updated on CEO-ME's latest articles and podcasts.




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