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June 14, 2022

Project manager vs. product manager – the main differences

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They both work with the product. They are necessary for almost every sector – from FMCG to software development. They are responsible for overseeing the work of other employees. They play vital roles in the company’s growth. Undoubtedly, there are many similarities between product managers and project managers. Yet, these roles are, in fact, quite different. And today, we’re going to tell that difference. We’re going to make a quick comparison – project manager vs. product manager.

Before we switch to discussing the responsibilities of project and product managers, we have to clarify the difference between what they work with – products and projects. Once that difference is clear, you will quickly grasp the role of a project manager and the role of a product manager.

Product vs. Project

Let’s start with the product. Actually, coining a closed definition of a product is quite challenging as it can be almost anything that companies, institutions and other organisations offer. What’s crucial is the fact that the product satisfies the needs of specific users or groups of users. Nowadays, products can be physical (you can touch them, use them, or purchase them in a brick-and-mortar store) or digital (you can open them or download them to your computer or mobile device and use them via the same device).

Everything you can buy at a supermarket or in an online store is a product. Everything you can order from a company nearby is a product. Everything you have in your home or in your office is a product.

On the other hand, a project is an endeavour pursued by a group of people that want to achieve a specific outcome. In many instances, projects revolve around creating new products, but that’s not a prerequisite. Again, let’s use some examples. Every marketing or recruitment campaign is a project. Website redesign is a project. Organising a conference or a workshop is a project. And yes, designing a new product is also a project.

Here, these two elements overlap for the first time – a project frequently is directly related to a specific product. Let’s take a look at some examples of how projects can be connected to products:

  • Designing the prototype of a new product
  • Fixing bugs or other issues with a given product
  • Updating/modifying the product based on the market feedback

Now that you know the difference between product and project, we can get to analysing the project manager's responsibilities and product manager's responsibilities.

Product manager vs. project manager – key responsibilities

Shortly put, a product manager is responsible for the specific product as a whole. They work with the product throughout its entire lifecycle, from designing, updating and modifying to withdrawing it from the market (when it's no longer relevant or needed).

A project manager is responsible for a fraction of the product manager's work. Their goal is to execute particular projects and make sure they are delivered within the agreed conditions (e.g., relating to a budget or a schedule).

Product manager responsibilities Project manager responsibilities
Researching the idea for a new product (whether it’s needed on the market, what it should do etc.) Breaking down the idea for a new product into specific tasks
Designing the initial idea for a product Planning the project’s timeline and budget
Communicating this idea to the company’s stakeholders Allocating all the necessary resources and assets
Developing a strategic plan for a new product Monitoring the development of a project and overseeing every task completion
Creating a product roadmap (from prototype to putting it on sale) Communicating the project's development to the company's stakeholders
Overseeing the product’s growth Ensuring the project is finished in compliance with agreed conditions

Now, let’s take a closer look at project manager roles and responsibilities.

What do project managers do?

Project managers are responsible for making sure that the entire project is executed and finished as agreed and that the desired outcome has been successfully delivered. We could say it’s a tactical role focused strictly on the practical side of the product.

Project managers cooperate with product managers; they take the initial vision for a new product and develop one or more projects that are designed to achieve the desired outcome – a new functioning product (as quickly as possible). Project managers are responsible for planning the project and allocating necessary resources and assets (from assigning necessary employees to selecting project management methodologies and tools). They are also liable for the risk involved in the project and have to deal with mitigating and managing it (if possible).

Project managers have quite a challenging role, actually. They have to always balance the project’s resources, timeline and quality in order to deliver the best outcome in the shortest time for the least amount of money.

More often than not, project managers use something called a skills matrix that helps them in their work.

PROJECT MANAGER SKILLS MATRIX

It’s a tool that has but one purpose – to outline skills that are necessary for a specific PM team or a project. In other words, it's a set of competencies required to finish the project successfully. The skills matrix is frequently used in project management but also in HR.

Now, let’s answer two frequently asked questions about other roles involved in project management:

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PROJECT MANAGER VS. A PROJECT COORDINATOR?

Shortly put, a project manager oversees the entire project while a project coordinator oversees just a specific stage of work within the project. Moreover, a project manager has a far greater responsibility because they are liable for the project’s ultimate success.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PROJECT MANAGER VS. A PROJECT LEAD?

Project lead or project leader is a professional who’s responsible for engaging the team involved in a particular project, creating and maintaining a friendly and productive work environment and making sure that everyone knows what they have to do. It’s more of a motivational/inspirational role.

What do product managers do?

As you already know, product manager roles and responsibilities revolve strictly around one specific product. While project managers can handle many different projects, the product manager is always focused on their product and nothing else.

A product manager is frequently referred to as the product’s CEO. That’s because their role is comprehensive and strategic. They have to understand the product, customers who will buy it, their needs, and the current market situation. The product manager's role is to make sure the product is well-designed and fulfils the target audience's needs. Moreover, product managers have to spot both problems and opportunities related to their product and make the most of them. They have to know when a new product has the best chance of success and what to do to minimise the risk of failure.

Product managers are usually responsible for:

  • Monitoring the market and understanding customers’ needs and requirements
  • Identifying and solving product-related problems and challenges
  • Turning market opportunities into the product’s success
  • Creating a roadmap leading to a ready-made product that can be put on sale

Product managers deal on a daily basis with:

  • Product discovery and strategy
  • Product validation and market data
  • Product’s growth, promotion and development
  • Pricing and other product-related elements

Can one person handle both roles? Pros and cons

Lastly, we’d like to answer yet another popular question – can one be a project manager and a product manager at the same time? In theory, yes. In practice, it’s not a good solution. For starters, there are several challenges that arise almost immediately. Project and product managers are focused on different aspects of work and are responsible for different elements. Joining these two worlds in one person means that they won’t have enough attention and time to focus properly on each part of the work. Secondly, these roles require different skillsets.

A good project manager is not necessarily a good product manager and vice versa. Project managers are technical and tactical, whereas product managers are strategic and visionary. And lastly, designing and developing a new product is a risky and multifaceted endeavour. One person shouldn't take so much responsibility and work on their shoulders because it's a recipe for disaster.

On the plus side, combining these two roles in one person means huge money savings. In the last year’s survey, the median annual salary for a project manager was $115,000 [1]. On the other hand, product managers make slightly less – about $109,000[2].

Summary

In this article, we showed you the difference between product managers and project managers. Both of these professions are extremely important and play a vital part in the development of your company. If you’re planning on introducing a new product or a new service, make sure you have both these experts on your team. This way, you can rest assured that every element related to designing and developing a new product is properly taken care of.

And if you’re looking for the best way to develop a new digital product – the NoA Ignite team is at your service. We help our clients grow online. Frequently, we assist in designing new products and services. Thanks to our experienced team, we can offer both project and product manager competencies so that you can finish your new product without hassle.

Do you want to know more about our work? Schedule a free consultation today, and let’s see what we can do together!

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NoA Ignite

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