Product Manager versus Project Manager, who wins? What should you choose as a career path? How do they interact? Okay, they almost sound the same. But believe me, these are completely different professions, and they require completely different skill sets and knowledge.
Product Manager focuses on developing a product or service, increasing profit, and customer satisfaction. Project Manager focuses on the implementation of the product or service within given constraints of scope, time, and budget.
You need to have different personality traits to be efficient and effective as a Product Manager and as a Project Manager.
So let’s dive in.
Product vs Project Management
Let’s talk about product management first because project management is a subset of the product life cycle most of the time.
Here’s the simplest way to understand the difference:
The product life cycle can include one or several project life cycles.
In other words, you may need several projects to create and launch a new product or service.
The main goals of product management are:
- Increase sales
- Increase profit margins
- Increase market share
…of the product or service that we deliver.
While project management aims at the predictable delivery of the part of the product or the whole product within given constraints of time, money, and scope of work.
So, product management is a bigger entity. It’s an umbrella over several projects.
But it doesn’t mean that the product manager works with bigger budgets or the scope of work. Sometimes, project managers do the whole work, while product managers only set the goal and vision.
Okay, and just a side note:
You’ll need to understand that there might be separate projects that are done outside of any product or service that we create. And there might be products that require only one project to get through the whole Product Life Cycle or at least the major part of it
We create and launch the product within one project.
Now let’s compare the responsibilities of a project manager versus a product manager.
Responsibilities of a Product Manager
The Product Manager is responsible for maximizing the profits from the product or service that we create.
So he or she is responsible for the sales objectives before the CEO of the company or the department manager of this product.
Product Manager Develops Product Roadmap
On a higher level, a Product Manager needs to develop a vision for the product or service. Or in other words, the development direction in which it will go.
It all boils down to identifying the features and capabilities that we need to create so that this product is successful.
Likewise, if it is an existing product and we need to improve it. A Product Manager needs to decide what features to add or what effects to fix.
For what purpose? To increase:
- Revenue of the product
- Adoption of the product
- Satisfaction of customers
With all these features and capabilities in mind, the product manager needs to create the Product Road Map.
It’s a list of features and delivery dates that we will add to the product or service.
Okay, that’s one side of the product development: its features and capabilities.
Product Manager Develops Ideal Client Avatar
But before that comes the understanding for whom do we create it.
Who is our ideal client?
For which niche do we create the product?
What’s the pricing strategy for this niche, and these users, and this product we will take?
So based on that, the product manager needs to develop a positioning strategy.
Product Manager Leads the Launch of the Product
The result of all these efforts, the product manager needs to ensure the successful launch of the product or its update. It means he needs to collaborate with different departments:
- Customer Satisfaction
- Support Department
Usually, the product manager does not manage these departments directly. He works with the project and department managers.
All right, let’s move on and review what a product manager does on a daily basis.
A Day in Life of a Product Manager
Product Manager Communicates a Lot with Clients
And first of all, the bulk of the time of the product manager’s day is dedicated to communication with clients and users of the product.
So first of all, he needs to collect feedback from the real users about the product or new features.
Then, he needs to understand the real experience of using this product, and third, he needs to verify assumptions about new features that he wants to include in the product.
All this require great communication skills with strangers, more importantly, he needs to ask correct questions to understand the real need of users.
Because clients don’t usually say what they really want in the language that will help you create features or capabilities of the product.
Most of the time, you need to understand the real feelings and pain points of these users to efficiently create the capabilities that they really want.
This aspect of Product Management doesn’t come easily to people.
You need to be keen on communicating and helping others to develop a really great product.
You’ll Need to Analyze a Lot of Data
Then a project manager spends a lot of time analyzing the data. So, data-driven decision-making is a great skill here.
You try to understand what features clients actually use in the product, and therefore, there might be some insights into what new features they will like as well.
Then, you need to analyze the impact of new features that you introduce recently to the product to ensure that clients are still satisfied with your product.
Work with Sales Data
And from the other side, you, as the product manager, need to analyze the sales and marketing efforts of your product, so you need to see whether you can increase the profits from the product, whether your pricing options are working for your clients, and customers, and so on.
Outline New Features for the Product
Also, as a Product Manager, you need to describe features that you want to include in the product.
You don’t do the full in-depth business analysis here because quite possible you’ll have a separate person for this.
But at the high level, you do need to provide a vision for the new functionality and capabilities.
Collaborate with Other Teams
And as I mentioned, you, as a product manager, need to work with other project teams and other project managers, with department managers to ensure that the overall progress of the product and its timelines, its road map are in check.
Responsibilities of a Project Manager Compared to a Product Manager
Okay, now let’s review the project manager’s responsibilities.
First of all, you need to understand that the project manager can work within the product life cycle, but likewise, as I mentioned before, a project can be outside of any product or service.
So you can do a standalone project.
But let’s talk about project management within the product development. This way, we can better compare the two professions.
A project is a time limited endeavor to create a unique product, service or result, or an increment to the existing product.
Therefore, the main responsibility of a project manager is to reach project objectives within the given constraints of scope, time, and money.
Project managers operate with deadlines, budgets, and scope of work.
Example of Collaboration Between Project and Product Manager
A Product Manager initiated a project to create new functionality and capabilities for the product to reach business objectives.
So first of all, you as a Project Manager need to work with this Product Manager to identify the goal of the project and higher-level requirements. Usually, it’s the features that he wants to implement.
Then, you, as a project manager, need to take this goal and this high-level requirement and work with your business analyst, project team, and other stakeholders to clarify and specify these requirements.
After that, you’ll identify the scope of work that needs to be done to implement these features and capabilities.
And yes, sometimes, you, as a project manager and your project team, will need to communicate with users and clients of the product or service to clarify and specify requirements. So it’s not solely for the product manager’s responsibility.
So when you know the requirements of the project and you identify the scope of work, you can estimate it in terms of the duration and the cost.
Then, you’ll create a project management plan that explains how we will perform this work, what actual work needs to be done, and how long it will take, and what resources and people you need to finish this work successfully.
Okay, I hope you now understand the difference between the product and the project manager.
Daily Life of a Project Manager
So, what does a project manager do on a daily basis?
Okay, I’m a project manager, and I have a whole series of videos that describe my actual work day by day for the whole week.
Watch it here:
Summary of a Day in the Life of a Project Manager
Project Manager Works Directly with the Project Team
A project manager also communicates a lot, but he communicates only with his project team and project stakeholders.
So, he works with the project team to identify what needs to be done and how much it will take in terms of cost and duration.
And then, on a daily basis, the project manager will execute the project with his project team.
As a project manager, you will spend the bulk of your time communicating with your team members and stakeholders to organize the work, build processes and workflows.
To reach the project objectives.
That’s the only goal that the project manager pursues.
Project Manager Communicates with Project Stakeholders
Also, as a project manager, you will work a lot with stakeholders.
Stakeholders like your product manager, your subject matter experts, clients, sponsors, and so on.
But you will work then, and I will repeat it again:
To reach the project objectives that you lead.
Project Manager Control Expectations
So, for example, you’ll need to manage and control the expectations of stakeholders. And the main path here will be the road map of the product.
Because you, as the project manager, will need to provide high-level estimates for each deliverable that the product owner wants to include in the product.
At this level, if you will provide unrealistic estimates, the product manager will create a road map which he won’t be able to achieve. That will be a problem in the long run.
Likewise, you need to control expectations for the current project and its scope.
Because based on your promises and your commitments, when you deliver certain parts of the project or a project as a whole, the product management team and other stakeholders will build their plans based on it.
And as you understand:
If you fail to create this increment of the product on time, it will impact the whole chain after that.
You won’t be able to market, and sell, and launch the product as a whole.
Project Manager Verifies the Deliverables with the Product Team
You will need to regularly communicate with the product manager to ensure that your project team creates the product that he actually wants.
That’s why you’ll report to the product manager on the progress of the project and most likely will show the interim results of your work.
In general, you need to understand that the project manager is only responsible for the PROJECT outcome.
If a Product Manager made a poor decision as to the features that need to be implemented, and you implement them in time and within budget, it’s the product manager’s failure – it’s not yours.
So you can imagine a product manager as a client who hires a vendor, you as a project manager, and the project team to create some product or service or its increment.
Project Manager vs Product Manager: Comparison
I can say for sure that communication and soft skills are the most crucial traits for each of these professions.
Each role requires different mindsets and personal traits.
For example, a Product Manager should be visionary and should be able to research and analyze data. He should be good at communicating with strangers to understand their feelings and pain points.
Likewise, a product manager should be a fire-starter who is ready to experiment, who is ready to verify his own assumptions and do quick experiments.
On the other hand, a project manager should be a master in focusing and prioritizing only one thing: the project objective.
He should be a capable negotiator to ensure that he will not over-promise under the pressure of the business needs.
And that he will deliver tangible results for the given project and this given project only.
All right, if you want to learn more about other similar career options, I do recommend you to watch a video about the comparison of a scrum master with a project manager.