Product Manager vs Project Manager

4 min read

Today, in our mini-series to unpack the differences between Product Managers and similar job titles, we take on one of the most easily confused: Product Manager vs Project Manager. No two tech industry positions leave those who are new to the sector as perplexed as that of the differences between a Product Manager and the Project Manager. 

Project Managers work hand-in-hand with Product Managers to put the product’s vision into action and ensure that it is completed on schedule and budget.

Product Manager vs Project Manager Definitions

The word product and project is what sets the difference between the two titles. Product is what is being offered to the customers and it is also what is being developed by the Product Manager. Project is the plan that is laid down to complete said product from start to finish.

However, a project is done when it completes what it was made to accomplish. A product can have multiple projects throughout its entire development and it will continue to be improved upon after a product’s release.

Product Manager

Product Managers are in charge of a product that meets the needs of a specific group of people. A Product Manager is the product owner and is responsible for the strategy of the product. They will create the vision and roadmap of a product as it goes through its life cycle from formulation to maturation until it’s finally retired. They have to stay on top of developments and make sure the product is covering all bases. Since they have a lot on their plate so this is where a Project Manager comes in.

Want to learn more about Product Managers? We have a blog post explaining what Product Management is in more detail; give it a read next.

Project Manager

Project Managers are responsible for overseeing a project and meeting the milestones of the roadmap. Typically, a project is a one-time undertaking to develop a product or service. 

While the Product Manager will be tasked with conducting in-depth research and developing a strategic plan, it is up to the Project Manager to convert these strategic plans into specific, task-oriented initiatives.

If you’re looking to dig deeper, The Project Management Institute provides an excellent overview of the project manager’s position.

Responsibilities

Product Managers are the ones who decide on the overall product course. To accomplish this, they will need to perform thorough research to understand customer expectations, translating them into an MVP (Minimum Viable Product), and leading a development team to create the product. Product managers are also ultimately in charge of a product’s profit and loss and generate interest and passion from stakeholders.

Working in tandem with Product Managers, Project managers are responsible for meeting the objectives of the roadmap. They must take the product manager’s vision, create a project timetable around it, and schedule work for the production team to meet crucial targets and deadlines. 

The core difference between these two positions is the timeline of their responsibility. A Project Manager will follow a project through five stages – initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and control, and finally, closure, before moving on to the next project. A product, unlike a project, is not a one-time undertaking. To prove its usefulness and prevent being retired, it improves and evolves to the new user’s needs. 

Overlap

Together, the Product Manager and Project Manager are two gears turning together to produce a product that fits the Product Manager’s vision. Of course, in smaller companies where there is no room for a Project Manager, the Product Manager can take on that role as well. Bigger companies have more room for hires so it is easier for them to have both a Product and Project Manager.

Product management and project management have some overlap in responsibilities. Typically, Product Managers will need to view their product with an external, strategic mindset, while a Project Manager will have to oversee the project with an internal, tactical framework.

As Product Managers need to uncover the “why” of a product, it is up to the Project Manager to discern the “how.”

However, a Product Manager can be required to delve into the tactical, task-based specifics of a product’s creation at times. A project manager may need to occasionally take a step back to see the larger picture of a project. 

Skills

Product management and project management both rely heavily on soft skills, such as leadership and time management.

While certain industry-specific skills may be required for Product Managers to be successful in their sector, most project management skills can be transferred to the broader analytical scope also used by product managers. 

It’s also worth noting that both product managers and project managers rely on similar soft skills to succeed in their positions. Planning, communication, coordination, and critical thinking are crucial skills for Project Managers and translate easily to Product Manager positions.

Product Manager vs Project Manager

These two roles are usually the most misunderstood by those outside of the pipeline. The responsibilities of Product Managers and Project Managers are clearly defined — each contributing in their way to the success of a product. However, while their primary objectives may differ, the skills necessary to succeed as a Project Manager are the ones that will make transitioning into the role of a Product Manager that much easier. 

If you’re ready to move to the Product Manager position, check out our exclusive Product Manager job board. Or, if you want to build your skillset and continue learning, book a free career coaching session with one of our in-house PM experts. We’d love to help you kickstart your product management career!

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