Project Manager or Product Manager: what’s the difference?
What responsibilities do product and project managers share? How is product management different from project management? Fred from nTask answers important questions to highlight differences between Product and Project Management.
The titles Project Manager and Product Manager are often misunderstood or confused with one another. In most organizations, the responsibilities under these job titles may overlap in a few ways.
Jordan Bergtraum has over 10 years of professional experience and is a management consultant in the B2B SaaS industry. In his ProductTank NYC presentation, Bergtraum explain that when companies are starting up and have a limited number of employees, people need to wear multiple hats and take on multiple roles.
Even a Product Manager can also take up certain responsibilities of the project management.
Potential issues may arise when one person is given both these roles. According to Bergtraum, in most cases, project management is prioritized over product management. This is because product strategy is not usually considered urgent and usually takes the back seat while organizations try to cater to urgent, project-related issues.
According to a study by Jordan within his organization, when a single person handles product and project management, 80 percent of the time is spent on project management. This leaves only 20 percent for product management related activities.
He furthers adds that for long-term success and sustainability, short-term role changes should be avoided. Both product and project management roles need to be established in detail so both of them can work towards making the product successful.
Here are some differences we have put together to make the matter clearer. Let’s begin.
Product vs. Project
The difference between a product and a project is more than just switching of two alphabets.
Ron Yang Ron is the Senior Director for Product Management and UX at Aha!
He defines both these elements as follows:
- A product is what you provide to a group of users. It may comprise of a physical, tangible product, a software solution or, in other cases, a service.
- A project comprises of a plan that involves a series of activities with a defined set of objectives and a time period.
He explains it through the example of a mobile application. The product would be the mobile application. However, the product may have to undergo multiple projects before it is released.
Figure 1 – Source: Educase Review
Patrick O’Malley is a Product Management Consultant at Product Smart and previously, the Head of Product at Yahoo! Answers.
According to O’Malley, the role of a product manager is more related to getting the product right. It is the responsibility of the product manager to ensure that that the product has a valid business model and that the right research, vision and experience goes into the product that the customers will buy.
On the other hand, the project manager must ascertain that all the requirements of the project are fulfilled whether is hiring the right team, having the appropriate resources and detailed plans so that the project can be completed on time and within a budget. Project plans are continuously monitored to avoid any mishaps that may otherwise hinder the project’s completion.
Jennifer Bridges is a certified PMP with over 20 years of experience as a consultant. She is also the Founder of PDUs2Go.com. According to Bridges, both these roles can be perceived as that of a CEO.
It depends upon the complexity, roadmap owner, span of control and if it involves the responsibility for the profit and loss statement and project forecasting as well.
Both product and project managers have different sets of responsibilities depending on the scope of work and nature of the project.
However, according to Patrick O’Malley, some of the major responsibilities of a product manager include:
- Product research,
- Understanding customer needs,
- Product Vision,
- Validating business model,
- Defining success metrics
A project manager may have the following responsibilities:
- The project plan,
- Project scope,
- Project cost/budget,
- Delivery dates,
- External dependencies,
- Monitoring progress,
Hemalatha Manickavinayaham is an IT Project Manager Principal at Enterprise Information Systems.
According to Hemalatha, a product manager and a project manager focus on different aspects of a product’s scope. The project manager pays attention to how and the product manager stays focused on the what.
He further adds that these two roles may be at odds with one another with reference to the scope.
For example, a product manager will attempt to add and enhance product features in light of customer feedback and input whereas a project manager will need to ensure timely completion and cost effectiveness.
Both these roles should collaborate with one another to balance these conflicts.
What differences or similarities would you highlight between the roles of a product manager and a project manager? Share your thoughts in the comments below.