After working several years as a project manager, some professionals are considering to transition into product management without having a clear understanding the role. When you are applying for a position as a product manager, there is a good chance that you get asked to explain the difference between Product Management and Product Management. Let’s begin with the definition of "Product" and "Project".
According to the PMI body of knowledge (PMBOK®), a project is a “temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result”. In contrast, a product is anything that can be offered to a customer segment or market that might satisfy a want or a need. A product has a life cycle covering product idea selection, product development, product launch, market management, and product retirement when the need for a product diminishes. Any of those phases, e.g. product development or client implementation, are typically managed as a project.
Role of a Project Manager
A Project Manager is responsible for a predefined outcome which will be described as the projects objective. A Project Manager will manage the development of the product, service or result through the application of available resources.
Project Management as a discipline provides the tools and techniques for the team to organise and prioritise the various tasks that need to be completed, as well as work within cost, schedule, scope and quality constraints. The PMBOK® includes 10 project management knowledge areas that get categorized into 3 main areas:
- Risk and issue management
- Scope and Quality management
- Resource management including schedule, costs, HR, vendor and stakeholder management.
Managing these areas are the main responsibility of a project manager.
Role of a Product Manager
A Product Manager is responsible for the ongoing satisfaction of unmet needs of customers. The goal of product managers is to develop a product that has more value than the competition, build a sustainable competitive advantage and ensure a profit for a business. Roles and Responsibilities of a product manager include:
- Gathering and prioritizing product and customer requirements,
- Defining the product vision,
- Working closely with engineering,
- Working with sales, marketing, legal/compliance and service and support to ensure revenue and customer satisfaction goals are met.
A Project Manager’s focus is internal and tactical whereas a Product Manager’s focus is external on the customers’ need and on product strategy. The roles of a Project Manager and a Product Manager are different but these roles have a similar skill set:
- Excellent interpersonal skills
- Ability to work with cross-functional teams
- Leadership and influencing skills
- Time management skills
- Business and technical savviness
So it is not uncommon for organizations to ask Product Managers to take on Project Management responsibility and vice versa. However, doing both jobs can compromise the successful delivery of a project. If a Product Manager is also running a project his/her time and attention for the customer strategy gets diverted to chasing people, stakeholder reporting etc. You do not have sufficient time and skills set to perform well on all points. A Project Manager excels at managing to datelines and a Product Manager knows what the customer wants and keeps that in mind.
For products that aren’t very complex, products that aren’t global, it may still be feasible to have the Product Manager also undertake the Project Management role but it is better to have these two roles done by two individuals, especially for large-scale, global product developments and rollouts.