There aren’t two more confusing roles in an organization that get mixed up as often than the product manager and the project manager. After all, there are literally two words that separate them.Although both are leadership roles and share the same titles, there is vast difference between what a product manager and a project manager are responsible for.
While the ultimate goal of the project manager is to maximize quality while minimizing risk, the product manager aims to maximize value and create new revenue streams. While the roles complement each other, they are different in what they do. The product manager sets the product vision, gathers requirements and prioritizes them. The project manager—on the other hand—acts up on the vision set by the product manager to ensure it is executed on time and within the allocated budget.
While both the project manager and the product manager roles are technically geared to deliver product and projects, they use different processes and best practices to ensure this.To iron out the difference between the roles, one needs to understand what the terms product and project refer to. This is starting point of understanding the difference between the role and responsibilities of a product manager and a project manager.
Following is how we the terms product and project are defined in scholarly work and publications by professional associations.
The Project Management Institute defines project as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. Often a one-time endeavor, a project aims to create a product or service. Having a start and end date as well as a define outcome, a project typically comprises of five stages which are initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and control, and closure.
Kotler et.al defines product as anything that can be offered to market that might satisfy a want or need. From this definition alone, we can decipher that a product can be anything from a physical product to a service or a software that satisfies the needs of a group of people. The product has a lifecycle which starts with its development and introduction on the market followed by the growth in its acceptance, maturity, and ultimately retirement once it is no longer needed. Within context of a project, product development is needed to create a product. As a result, multiple projects can occur during the lifecycle of a product.
From the above definitions, we learn that a product—unlike a project—is not a temporary endeavor. Rather, it evolves and adapts to the current needs of the user to prove its utility and avoid being retired.We also learn that while the focus of the project manager is internal and tactical, the focus of the product manager is external—on the need of the customers and on the resulting product strategy.
With these differences in mind, we will look to understand the role and responsibilities of both the project manager and the product manager as well as how the roles overlap and the problems that result. We will also provide advice on how these problems can be avoided or managed.
The development of a product can only take place within the context of a project, and a product’s lifecycle can involve multiple projects. For example, say you are developing a mobile application. Now, the initial development of the application will be one project. However, since a mobile application is a product that can be constantly improved till it is being sold to customers, the product development could involve several projects rather than just one.
The product changes with the needs of customers, therefore, product management is not a one-time endeavor rather it is a continuous process involving multiple projects that deliver new features and improve the product.
While it’s possible for one person to assume the role and responsibilities of a project manager and a product manager, it is important to define both roles and understand the difference between them as this allows us to know the skillset the project manager and the product manager need to have to perform their jobs.
Responsible for setting the product strategy and building a visual roadmap, the product manager communicates the vision of the product from the highest levels of executive leadership to development and implementation teams. Much like a CEO, the role of the product manager is strategic in nature. In fact, the product manager is often referred to as the CEO of a product.
The product manager is the one who sets and owns the overall direction of the product, staying with it until it’s retired from the market. From strategic to tactical, the role of the product manager covers different activities. Typically, tasks performed by a product manager include:
In addition to the above, a product manager is also responsible for the profit and loss (P&L) function of a product for which they collaborate with sales, marketing, and customer service and support teams. A product manager performs the above tasks to meet the ongoing unmet needs of the customer in order to:
By managing the product throughout its lifecycle, a product manager ensures that it continues to satisfy market needs and contributes towards increased revenues and profits for the company. There are three main responsibilities of a product manager and they are detailed below.
The best product managers have a ‘goal first’ approach to managing and building the product, which enables them to create initiatives that help reach goals. However, all product managers—regardless of experience or level of expertise—are required to undertake the following key responsibilities:
Strategy—Not only does a product manager need to set the vision of a product, they also need to develop strategies to achieve it.
Ideation—This involves taking responsibility for the development, generation, and curation of new ideas for the product
Features—To deliver a complete product in the market, the product manager is required to define the features and requirements for the product.
In addition to the above, the product manager may also assume responsibility for the product’s Go-to-Market strategy, organizational training, and profit and loss function.
An individual who manages everything related to a project, a project manager is less focused on specific product goals, and more focused on the project itself. The operations within a project—time, budget, identification of risks, scope creep, delegation of tasks, and more—are the domain of a project manager.
Through application of available resources, a project manager manages the development of the product, service, or result. Mainly focused on the operational elements, project managers have one main objective and that is to deliver a project successfully within the pre-determined budget and deadline.
A discipline that provisions the tools and techniques for the team to organize and complete the various tasks in a project, project management requires a project manager to employ their knowledge and expertise in four main areas to successfully bring a project to completion—within the allotted budget, time, and quality. The four main areas or responsibilities that a project manager needs to focus on are detailed below.
For a project manager, it is imperative to find answers to the following questions:
To answer the above questions, a project manager is required to undertake four key responsibilities which are as under:
Risk and Issue Management—A critical part project management, risk and issue management helps to detect and minimize potential risks—that might delay the completion of the project—early in the process. A project manager is responsible for highlighting and then managing any risks to the successful completion of the project. They are also responsible for minimizing the impact of any issues that are identified.
Planning—A key responsibility of a project manager, planning the project involves defining the scope of the project and the based on this scope, developing the plan and other requirements of the project. Typically, tasks involved in the planning of a project include, but are not limited to the following:
Additionally, to successfully deliver the project within the constraints of time and budget, the project manager focuses on developing uncompromising procedures and guidelines during the planning of the project.
Resource Scheduling and Management—Concerned with the daily management of several key resources, resource scheduling and management ensures that the project team have what they need, when they need it. The resources to manage for the project manager include reports, materials, task lists, infrastructure and even people required for the successful completion of the project.
Scope Management—Usually the most difficult activity undertaken by a project manager, scope management requires the project manager to balance the trio of time-budget-quality so that the project scope can be modified in a favorable way and in line with the outcome set initially. Engaging in a balancing act between the critical aspects of time, budget, and quality, the project manager looks to restrict the extent (scope) of the endeavor within acceptable limits. For instance, if the timeline of the project has been shortened, then either the scope should be reduced, or cost should be increased to maintain quality.
In addition to the above, the project manager might be made responsible for gathering user requirements, however, they will have little role in defining and prioritizing them.
If you don’t have the budget for both roles or if you don’t want the confusion of having to manage two roles with more or less the same qualities, then you can have the product manager also undertake the project management role. We recommend this because not only does a product manager set the vision and strategy for the product, they also help to bring plans to life.
At Achievion, we assign a Product Manager to lead a client’s product development instead of a Project Manager as majority of other software development companies do. This approach ensures our long-term strategic focus on the ultimate product success from the very start of each engagement.
Get in touch to learn how our AI powered solutions
can solve your business problem.