What Are A Product Manager And A Project Manager? Product Manager Vs. Project Manager In A Nutshell

Product managers are responsible for overseeing the management lifecycle of a product. This encompasses product teams, product strategy, and the product roadmap. Project managers, on the other hand, must plan, execute, monitor, and ensure the successful completion of organizational projects. In other words, they execute the product development plan formulated by the product manager.

Understanding the role of a product manager

In his 2008 book Inspired, author Marty Cagan notes that the role of a product manager is to “discover a product that is valuable, usable, and feasible.” While this is a useful (if not succinct) definition, let’s take a look at the role of a product manager in more detail.

For one, the product manager must create a research-based vision for the product and effectively communicate that vision to the rest of the organization. They must be persuasive speakers and have the ability to drum up passionate interest and involvement from the relevant stakeholders. 

When this has been achieved, the product manager must create a strategic action plan to help make the vision a reality. This normally takes the form of a product map, which clarifies the necessary tasks, goals, teams, and deadlines. 

Understanding the role of a project manager

According to the Project Management Institute, project managers “make project goals their own and use their skills and expertise to inspire a sense of shared purpose within the project team. They enjoy the organised adrenaline of new challenges and the responsibility of driving business results.

To deliver these successful outcomes, the project manager must be comfortable with uncertainty and change in dynamic business environments. They must also have great people skills to foster a sense of trust and camaraderie and help teams work to their maximum potential.

Furthermore, the project manager must possess a diverse range of techniques to break complex tasks into smaller sub-tasks with documentation, control, and monitoring. They recognize that each project has a unique set of contextual constraints that can only be overcome with a tailored approach. 

Lastly, project managers must communicate progress to key stakeholders and ensure the project is completed before the stated deadline.

Overlap between a product manager and project manager

Despite the obvious differences, there is some overlap between the two roles.

On the odd occasion, a product manager will be required to analyze product development at the task level. Since this is usually the domain of the project manager, the two individuals may work in close collaboration and share some of the associated responsibility.

Conversely, there may be instances where the project manager is required to take a more holistic or strategic view of the project. Here, it’s important to note that most of the skills a project manager possesses can easily be applied to the broader domain of a product manager. 

For instance, a project manager with a track record of troubleshooting activities is, in essence, someone who possesses effective problem-solving skills. The ability to problem solve is one of many soft skills that managers must develop – regardless of industry or title.

Other soft skills that are common to the product and project manager job description include transparency, listening, trustworthiness, and reliability.

Key takeaways:

  • Product managers oversee the management lifecycle of a product, encompassing product teams, product strategy, and the product roadmap. They must be able to develop a plan to bring a vision to reality and convince key stakeholders that this vision is viable.
  • Project managers plan, execute, monitor, and ensure the successful completion of organizational projects. They must be skilled people managers, be comfortable with change and uncertainty, and deliver projects according to stated timelines.
  • There is some overlap between the role of a product manager and a project manager. Sometimes the product manager will be required to look at the project at the task level. Conversely, the project manager may need to consider a more holistic view of the project. In any case, there are various soft skills and associated competencies that are common to both job descriptions.

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