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Product Manager vs. Project Manager

Every job, from attorneys and physicians to engineers and developers, requires some form of project management. A product manager or product marketing manager – a professional who oversees activities devoted to creating, delivering and marketing products – is no exception. Though product manager and project manager roles intersect, they’re essentially two different positions that work together to achieve different things.

A product manager focuses on the creation and development of products, while a project manager focuses on managing the activities around product development (or any other function) through its implementation. A simpler explanation can place each position into two categories: tactics (project management) versus strategy (product management).

Product Management

The role of a product manager varies widely depending on whether he or she is focused on technical versus business goals. For instance, the product manager’s main responsibilities can encompass:

  • Serving as a technical resource for marketing and sales teams
  • Creating marketing and sales collateral, including product brochures, case studies, sales sheets and whitepapers
  • Acting as the main liaison between accounting, development, engineering, marketing and sales departments

Product managers communicate how products should be delivered to customers based on the company’s business and marketing strategy. Since product managers focus more on the “what” than the “how,” they must stay abreast of current and future trends in their respective industries. Combining this market knowledge with technical expertise, the product manager determines how the company’s product offering can meet current and future customer needs and enhance customer experience overall.

Project Management

Eventually, one or more aspects of a product manager’s job will fall into project management. Nevertheless, it’s the project manager who oversees the vehicles that support products and other activities related to designing, building and selling those products.

Rather than performing tasks that contribute to the strategic direction of the company, project managers rely on a set of methodologies to deliver a project on time and within budget. The project manager also ensures that the project meets the specifications outlined by the product manager.

Whereas product managers are heavily involved with a product from conception through retirement, project managers can also become involved during the planning phase of the product life cycle. Project managers keep their project within scope and budget, managing the various schedules, roles, resources, risks and costs around those activities. Once the project is completed, project managers transition to the next project.

In contrast, the role of a product manager is defined and dictated by a specific product or product line. Likewise, the product manager continues to support the product, from creating documentation to fielding customer inquiries and requirements, even after the product’s launch.

Why Companies Need Both

Some industry experts argue that detaching product design and development roles from those that focus on coordination and execution creates redundancies and miscommunication within business operations. If feedback and collaboration between product managers and project managers become broken, this leads to poorly developed products that fail to meet the company’s budget and requirements or that don’t meet the customer’s needs. This concern has led many organizations to merge the two positions, where product managers handle design, development and launch activities.

While it gives them greater control of the overall process, allowing product managers to design products, develop strategy and manage projects is probably best suited for smaller companies. Larger organizations may be better served by appointing project managers who handle the administrative issues that crop up during implementation. Moreover, as product teams grow, so does the number of deliverables.

The project manager helps keep the different product components in sync and on schedule so that product managers can devote the bulk of their time to analysis and product vision. By allocating enough time and people resources (i.e. project managers), companies avoid the pitfalls of delivering a product that fails to compete in the marketplace.

Conclusion

Remember, if you decide to separate the product management and project management roles, make sure there’s consistent communication between the two. For example, if the project manager discovers that a project is going over budget, the product manager can determine if keeping certain product functionality or removing it altogether will enable the project to meet its budget.

Product management and project management indeed have different goals, but they are inseparable functions when it comes to successfully producing and delivering products and services.

 
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