Contrary to popular belief, there actually exists a difference between the program manager and project manager just like there is a difference between the product manager and project manager. A product manager role is not present in every company – though it should be considering that product manager responsibilities are different from those of project managers.
You might also be wondering what position is higher than a project manager which includes such positions as the CEO, but it is important to remember that both project managers and product managers are very similar despite their differences. Here is everything you need to know about product managers and project managers.
What is the difference between product vs. project?
The biggest difference between a project and a product is probably the fact that a project is a process while a product is an object. When you are working on a project, you are working on a certain process usually with a team. When you are working on a product, you are working on a particular item that you should create. In other words, you could be working on a project that involves having a product as the end result.
At the same time, there are certain details or features of both projects and products that make them different from each other. For instance, a project focuses on short-term results even if the project ends up being several years long. A product, on the other hand, is meant to last longer and serve your customers continually solving their issues. Because of this difference, a project has a beginning and an end while a product could be updated repeatedly.
Consequently, the people working on a certain project including the project manager will likely be disbanded once the project is complete. A product, on the other hand, requires constant improvements which means a team to work on it led by the product manager is necessary. When working on a product, you will probably have only a vague idea of what you will be doing, but when working on a project, you will have a complete plan.
It is also important to remember that customers don’t really care about projects. They care about products – something they can purchase from you rather than something you are still working on. Because customers play such a big role in product management, all their needs and interests become the motivators for the product manager and their team to adjust the product accordingly and work on it continuously to meet the customer expectations.
Comparison of project manager vs product manager roles
So, how exactly do the project manager and product manager positions compare? How much are they related to each other and are there more differences or similarities between the two? To better understand that, it’s important to look at four main aspects of these positions: roles, responsibilities and focus, skills required, and KPIs.
Because of the differences between projects and products, the roles of project managers and product managers largely depend on these very differences. For instance, project managers usually spend less time with their projects than product managers do with products. This is because projects require a limited amount of time to be completed while products need to be repeatedly updated and improved with no particular end date.
At the same time, project managers usually work with a much bigger team that consists of several different specialists while product managers work both in teams and on their own because product development and management do not always require an entire team. Consequently, project managers often take on leadership-related roles while product managers take on more individual and independent roles.
Project managers are also the ones who must make sure that a project is completed by a certain deadline and within a budget. They make sure that everyone follows a plan developed before the project can be dealt with. Product managers, however, don’t always have a deadline to be stressing about and a budget to be worrying about. It’s true that they can have fixed deadlines and budgets, but these are usually less strict than those for projects.
Project managers are expected to follow a plan while product managers need to find a solution while adapting to the new circumstances every time. That being said, it is important to remember that both project managers and product managers sometimes have to perform each other’s tasks (e.g. project managers might help to develop a plan of action while product managers might need to manage a team of professionals like project managers usually do).
Both product managers and project managers often require external help and need more professionals to complete the project they are working on or improve the product they are fixing. This is why outsourcing part of the tasks has become so common. For example, you could be using an experienced writer from a writing service review site like Pick The Writer to create a report of the project or content for the company website.
By leaving part of the difficult tasks to others, project managers are able to reduce the risks associated with project management and maximize the end results. Product managers, on the other hand, get the ability to focus on the most important aspects of product management while lets others manage the less significant ones. Communication is vital here, but it is even more important for project managers who closely listen to customer feedback.
2.Responsibilities and Focus
As explained above, product managers are concerned with developing and managing products while project managers work with the process of project management. In a way, though, product managers can also be considered the project managers of their own products. After all, they are the ones in control of what happens with the products they are developing and managing afterward. Here’s how the responsibilities of the two positions can be viewed:
- Project managers are involved with using a preconceived plan to complete tasks that are a part of the project. Product managers are involved with researching the possible solutions to an issue related to the product they are developing.
- Project managers plan entire timelines before they start acting. Product managers do everything on-the-go dealing with every new problem that arises, but they still have a particular vision of their product in mind.
- Project managers are in charge of using the resources they have for the project they are working on. Product managers find solutions and get in touch with the stakeholders and investors to show what kind of budget is needed.
- Project managers monitor and track the tasks performed by the teams they are working with. Product managers plan what to do immediately after a problem arises.
It’s important to note just how much product managers are involved with other groups including the stakeholders or investors and the customers. The first group helps to finance product development and management while the second group gives a reason for the product managers to continue working by providing valuable customer feedback that eventually guides the product managers and tells them what to work on next.
Product managers can really do their jobs properly if they are not interacting with these two groups because they play an important role in the entire process of product management. If the customers don’t give their opinion on the products, product managers can’t always understand what the issues are. If the stakeholders or investors don’t provide the funding, product managers can’t continue developing and improving the products.
Project managers, on the other hand, have some tasks of their own that they need to keep in mind when managing their projects:
- They need to accurately analyze the situation and predict the possible risks. Then, they need to use these findings to create countermeasures that will perhaps prevent these risky situations from ever occurring.
- They need to be able to use the resources they have to the fullest extent as well as understand which parts of the project require a bigger or smaller part of the budget. They also need to be able to schedule when exactly these resources should be used.
- They need to be able to find a balance between all the different parts of project management which include the time spent on different tasks, the budget and resources used for them, and the quality of the end results.
By looking at the different roles and responsibilities both the project managers and the product managers need to use, it is relatively easy to understand what kind of skills they need to have. Though these skills are very similar for both project managers and product managers, there are still some differences that need to be considered when, for example, hiring specialists to perform these roles.
Speaking of which, it’s crucial to always remember that nobody can perform absolutely all the required tasks which is why outsourcing is still a major part of both project and product management. Make sure to use a professional writer from a writing services review site like Writing Judge. By using a site like that, you will be able to compare all the available specialists by their reputation, knowledge, and skills to make more informed decisions.
Though the skills required for project management and product management are fairly obvious, it is still worth pointing out some key requirements you would want your future product manager to meet:
- They need to be user-oriented which means they will be attentive to what the customers are saying and will be able to properly communicate with them to find out what their concerns are. Based on the evidence and feedback they have, they will be making better decisions.
- They need to be able to think creatively and get different perspectives on a single matter. This will help them understand the topic much better and find the most effective and efficient solutions especially when these don’t lie on the surface and seem to be quite unobvious.
- They need to be able to work in a team and promote the spirit of teamwork in their colleagues. Though product managers often have to work individually, they still collaborate with others a lot, so being able to work in a team is crucial.
- They need to be able to adapt the products to cultural and customer-specific expectations, traditions, values, and beliefs. If they can’t do this, there is a big chance that the products will not be popular with consumers.
KPIs or key performance indicators are always some of the most important elements that determine whether or not your strategy is successful and your actions are getting to real results. Because project management and product management are very much related to each other, the two have some overlapping KPIs like the ability to satisfy customers as the end result of pretty much all the actions.
However, there are differences too. Here are just some KPIs that help to determine the success of either project management or product management:
- Project Management: Project managers will often need to make sure that all the team members are satisfied, so measuring employee satisfaction levels is a must. Another aspect the closely regulate is the distribution of resources and the performance of the team that should follow a preset time schedule as closely as possible. It’s crucial to remember that projects are short-term processes and need responsible management to be completed successfully.
- Product Management: Product managers communicate both with customers and stakeholders. When it comes to customers, they need to measure customer satisfaction levels, loyalty levels, sales, and so on. When it comes to stakeholders, they need to make sure that the stakeholders are satisfied with their actions and the way things are going.
Role overlap between product and project (+ challenges)
Because there are already many responsibilities, skills, and KPIs overlapping between project management and product management, some people are able to handle the two roles simultaneously. That being said, this is not an easy task and requires enough experience in both of these to be able to switch between the two. Here are just some ways in which the two overlap and the challenges you would be facing if you tried them both at once:
- A project manager can decide to become a product manager and perform the two at the same time. However, this can result in decreased focus which will ultimately lead to lower productivity both from the project/product manager and within their team.
- Some project managers who try to become product managers or perform their tasks may not possess the necessary skills. For instance, while a project manager doesn’t need to communicate with customers, a product manager should. If the project manager doesn’t know how to do this, they won’t be successful with product management.
- Lastly, project managers turned product managers are taking too many responsibilities on themselves meaning that the failure of a single person could potentially jeopardize the success of pretty much everything. Consequently, it’s better to have several people in charge and make them work as a team which is what separate project manager and product manager positions are for.
Project management software vs. product management software
Last but not least, project management and product management software is fundamental for the success of both of these. Perhaps the biggest difference between software for the two is that project management programs allow specialists to make sure that the strategy designed at the start is executed properly. Product management software, on the other hand, allows specialists to organize this strategy or a separate one for the product they are working on.
So, to put it simply, project management software focuses on the execution while product management software focuses on the strategy. Project management software is designed for tracking and assessment which allows you and your team to follow your time schedule, stay within the limits of your budget, and so on. Project management software is instrumental in coordinating all the processes involved with project management.
Product management, however, helps specialists to set the right priorities and create a strategy based on the immediate changes in the way products function. This kind of software allows product managers to create a plan and then follow it. In some sense, this software combines both the abilities of project management software and the features of programs that are required for working with the strategy before it can be implemented.
There is also a separate type of product roadmap software that is specifically designed to allow you to deliver your strategy to your stakeholders, investors, and even your team members who will be working on product management. Most of the time, these applications are needed to visualize the steps needed to get to a certain point and enhance the product in a certain way so it gets to the next, upgraded level.
To sum up, project management and product management are definitely closely connected, but you still need to understand the main differences between the two to be able to have both positions in your company and successfully design a strategy for these positions.