Project manager vs. product manager: what are the differences?

From projects to products and more, there’s so much to manage in an organisation. You may wonder just how much the responsibilities of project managers and product managers overlap — or whether they fulfil entirely different functions.  
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.
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What do project managers do?

Project management is fundamental to the success of a business. Project managers need to determine exactly what actions are required to effectively align the business with its goals, and then develop a comprehensive plan to achieve those goals.
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?

While project managers oversee every step of a project, product managers focus exclusively on the products a company offers. Mohamad Alzuabi elaborates: "Product managers create and maintain the product vision and roadmap, always keeping customer expectations in mind." They may also lead product development teams and must apply problem-solving, decision-making and leadership skills throughout their team's cyclical process.
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

At the heart of any business is the product it offers - be it a physical product, a service or an application. However, without a project manager, the company cannot realise its full potential.
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?

Both effective project management and product management require many key skills such as problem solving, organisation and leadership. However, there are also key differences between the two areas.

According to Alzuabi, there are three main areas where project management and product management differ:

Project managers:
  • Break existing initiatives and strategies into tasks 
  • Develop project vision, goals and scope and allocate resources, timeline and budget 
  • Manage stakeholders and team

Product managers:
  • Create product plans and maintain them 
  • Define product vision and process 
  • Manage product team 
Project managers and product managers share many important key competencies, but their priorities are different. While project managers ensure that people and tasks stay on track, product managers focus on developing and improving the product or service for which they are responsible. Although all aspects of a product can be divided into projects, not all projects are directly related to products. For example, marketing teams are responsible for selling products developed by product managers and their teams. In this context, project managers can be used to guide the team through the sales process of the product. Although project managers and product managers have different roles, they work together to implement the company's vision, goals and, together, strategy.

What pays more: product manager or project manager?

Salaries for product and project managers depend on a number of factors, including education, work experience, certifications and industry. However, in general product managers earn more than project managers. According to, the average salary for entry-level workers in January 2023 was $75,906 for product managers and $70,818 for project managers. These figures are generally well above the US average salary, which was $45,760 in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Should I be a project manager or a product manager?

If you choose a career as a product manager or project manager, you can have a direct impact on the success of a company. But which role suits you best? Alzuabi recommends: "If you prefer to work in a predictable environment with clear expectations, tasks and deliverables, you should become a project manager. However, if you want to work in an adaptable environment where you have to define goals, visions and requirements, break the vision into tasks, allocate teams, resources and budgets, and manage change, risk and stakeholders, you should rather apply to be 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.


Project managers and product managers have similar skills but have different daily tasks and priorities. Project managers are responsible for managing projects from start to finish, using a combination of project management methods and frameworks to ensure the project stays on time and on budget. In contrast, product managers focus solely on the products a company offers, creating and maintaining the product vision and roadmap to deliver a good product that benefits both the customer and the company.
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.

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Keywords: Project management, Product management

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