Project manager vs. product manager: what are the differences?
Before diving into the similarities and differences between project managers and product managers, it’s necessary to understand the purpose both roles serve. Spoiler alert: They share similar skill sets but have different daily focuses and priorities. Working together, they can help lead organisations to success. Mohamad Alzuabi, senior project manager, and Dr Zuzana Buzzell, associate dean for business programmes at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), share their thoughts on this topic.
What do project managers do?
As Mohamad Alzuabi explains, project managers are the ones who translate a company's vision and strategy into achievable tasks. In doing so, they have to work in a volatile and uncertain environment with multiple teams and stakeholders. They are responsible for managing projects from start to finish, using a combination of project management methods and frameworks. They ensure that the right people and resources are involved in every aspect of a project and develop communication plans to keep everyone informed.
“They are also the bridge between the stakeholder groups within the organisation and make sure to keep the project on budget and time”, says Dr Zuzana Buzzell. As some organisations have many teams with different priorities, project managers need to be organised, flexible and goal-oriented to successfully overcome these challenges.
What do product managers do?
As product managers, they must "continuously reviewing finished parts of the product and requesting customer feedback to improve the product to their satisfaction”, says Dr Zuzana Buzzell, who is also a product manager for some SNHU developments. She emphasises that she always focuses on "delivering a good product that benefits both the customer and the organisation."
How project managers and product managers work together
Buzzell describes that product and project managers can look at the same project from different perspectives and work together to improve it. Together, product and project managers form a strong unit that achieves better results than if both did not benefit from the other's perspective. Product managers have extensive research and knowledge to contribute ideas, while project managers can help with implementation. The two often work together to discuss the requirements and outcomes of the product development process and reconvene as needed to adjust the project scope.
Project managers may bring in product managers to share their experience with team members and stakeholders. Product managers often bring in relevant market research, product insights, customer feedback and more. “Working together will result in a high-performing team, managing challenges and changes and maintaining stakeholders and customers satisfaction”, says Alzuabi.
What’s the difference between project management and product management?
According to Alzuabi, there are three main areas where project management and product management differ:
- Break existing initiatives and strategies into tasks
- Develop project vision, goals and scope and allocate resources, timeline and budget
- Manage stakeholders and team
- Create product plans and maintain them
- Define product vision and process
- Manage product team
What pays more: product manager or project manager?
Should I be a project manager or a product manager?
Good news for those who want to work in either role: Duties and responsibilities often overlap. A project manager may even have to take on the role of product manager, depending on which project or product the company is currently working on.
Since both roles are often closely related, you may already have contacts with experts from the other discipline and appreciate their work and skills. You may even have already gained an insight into the day-to-day work of the other role. All this experience can help you make the right decision for your career path.
Despite the differences, project managers and product managers can work together to achieve better results. They can look at the same project from different angles and work together to improve the project. Collaboration between the two roles results in a high-performing team that overcomes challenges and changes and maintains stakeholder and customer satisfaction.