Product Management vs. Project Management (Updated)

What is product management? What is project management?

For the past few years, the business world has suffered from “growing pains” and the corporate community is certainly enduring its share of turbulence and disorder. Among the many causative issues, mergers and downsizing are creating conflicts over strategies, roles and responsibilities, and corporate culture clashes.

Recently, a product manager lamented that he was stuck doing project management work and he wasn’t a project manager. My response: “I have good news and bad news.” First the good news: you realize there’s a difference between Product Management and project management. The bad news is that sometimes, you have to manage projects! It’s just part of the deal.

Product Management and project management are symbiotic, yet their purposes are distinctly different.

Confusion emerges when others in the organization refer to the individual roles as a singular function because they don’t know the difference, despite their purpose. Let’s dig in.

What Is The Difference Between Product And Project?

Product is anything that’s sold to a customer. It’s either tangible or intangible. In essence, a product is a business that rests inside a business. Therefore, Product Management is the business management of products. Products are conceived, developed, introduced to and managed in the market, over a period of time.

Project is a series of activities and tasks which, in a product business, contributes to the creation of a product. Projects are organized within a systematic framework, utilizing appointed or allocated resources. The tasks are subject to dependencies (e.g. upon the performance of others) and risks (e.g. upon factors that can go wrong). The delivery of a product signals the conclusion of these project activities and tasks. Projects also have a life cycle. They have a start point and an end point.

What is Product Management?

Product Management is the business management of products, product lines, or portfolios, holistically, for maximum value creation, across their life cycles.

What Are The Roles and Responsibilities of a Product Manager? 

Product Managers are individuals appointed to be product or product line “mini-business” owners. They are the leaders of cross-functional product teams. These teams are formed to optimize the product’s market position and financial return over its life cycle and their performance should be consistent with division and corporate strategies. (source: The Product Manager’s Desk Reference)

It’s not possible (in this article) to fine-tune the role and its responsibilities completely – but below is guidance to briefly describe seven key attributes of what’s needed to be successful in the role:

  1. Assessing markets, including the competitive landscape (companies, products, etc.), evaluating the industry or sector of your company and that of your customer’s (in a B2B setting), and of course, the needs of customers within targeted or chosen market segments.
  2. Setting direction with agreed-upon goals and strategies for the product – consistent with the goals and strategies of the organization where you work.
  3. Guiding teams through customer or user journeys and stimulating ideas for appealing Product designs and engaging experiences
  4. Leading and influencing those who work in other areas – namely cross-functional team members whose specialties are needed to support the goals and strategies established for the product’s business.
  5. Integrating and synchronizing the work of many people by seeing the big picture of the product’s business.
  6. Solving problems and making decisions based on financial and market data, consistent with agreed-upon goals and strategies.
  7. Forecasting, finance, and analysis, because it all comes down to numbers and positive outcomes, and optimizing all aspects of the product’s business as it moves through the market.

What are the Roles and Responsibilities of a Product Manager?

Project Managers are individuals responsible for planning, monitoring and controlling all aspects of a project. They must motivate and synchronize the assigned resources to achieve the goals of the project, while coping with the constraints of time, cost and consistent quality. Project Managers manage projects from start to finish.

Most important distinction between products and projects. Products represent the essence of the business – how it thrives, grows and brings revenue to the firm. Projects are the vehicles used to derive, deliver and support products, and any other business and operational elements related to them.

How Can A Project Manager and a Product Manager Collaborate?

Common Characteristics: Product managers and project managers also share some common characteristics. They all need to have excellent organizational and interpersonal skills. They need to be relentless and persistent in the drive to achieve their teams’ goals. Further, they need to possess qualities of leadership. Teams don’t just “rally ‘round the cause;” they rally around the vitality and inspiration of the person who represents the cause. Finally, they need appropriate systems and tools so that data can be synchronized across the business to offer visibility into the performance of projects, effectiveness of resources, and the consequent success of the products and services of the firm

Product Management and project management are symbiotic, yet their purposes are distinctly different.

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