Clearing Up the Confusion Between Product Management and Project Management

Product management focuses on the “what” and “why” a product exists throughout its entire lifecycle. Project management could be seen as the “how,” “when,” “who,” and “how much” aspects of a product or one standalone project within product development. While there is some overlap and some shared skills, each has distinct roles, responsibilities, skills, and certifications, which we will explore here.

Product vs Project Management-Product

What is Product Management?

Product management brings ideas to the marketplace throughout the life cycle phases of development, introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. The basic goals of this function are to identify a consumer problem, create a product to solve it, market and sell that product, and make a profit. Within that simple framework are a host of specific activities, including articulating market problems and potential demand, developing a product strategy and roadmap, gathering customer requirements, creating a business case, testing the product in the market, and creating a sales and marketing product launch plan.

Product vs Project Management-Project

What is Project Management?

The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines Project Management as “the use of specific knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to deliver something of value to people.” What constitutes a project are characteristics defined by PMI as a “temporary effort to create value through a unique product, service or result.” They have a defined start and completion, a specific team and budget, as well as a schedule along with a set of expectations to meet the goal.

One simple way to explain product management distinct from project management is to think of product management as an ongoing cycle throughout the product’s life and project management as a slice of time where focused goals need to be achieved within the larger whole.

Product vs Project Management-Commonality

What is Common Between the Two?

You can’t talk about these two functions without talking about the leaders who oversee these functions – product managers and project managers. These professionals share numerous required skills, including listening, organization, planning, financial and data analysis, communication, and product knowledge. Both work with teams (their own or others’) to achieve their goals. And, both should be working in concert to achieve product success.

Product vs Project Management-Differences

What are the Important Differences?

While a product manager is responsible for the product to achieve its scope, timeline, and other quality and market performance goals, a project manager is responsible for the individual projects required to achieve specific requirements that support those broader goals. For example, a product may be in its maturity phase and the product manager has worked with designers to determine that customers want a particular feature set. Those new features could be scoped as a project for a particular team and timeframe.

Product managers focus on prioritizing user needs and product requirements, making sure that the product’s evolution supports the organization’s business objectives and market positioning. Their main goals are to fulfill the customer’s demand and deliver value to the market at desired sales and profit metrics. A project manager focuses on the success of required projects, including scope, timeline, and budget. Their main goals are to deliver on time, within budget, and according to plan.

Product vs Project Management-Manager Skills

Product Manager vs. Project Manager Skills

Similar to differences in focus and goals, there are distinct differences in skills that each role must master. When each role is highly proficient in their skill sets, they deliver more value to each other as part of a successful product team.

Product managers need to have a high-level of expertise and experience in these areas:

  • Market and sales analysis
  • Competitive analysis
  • Price and profit modeling
  • Product and go-to-market strategy
  • Marketing and sales launch planning
  • Leadership reporting and presentations

Project managers need to have a high-level of expertise and experience in these areas:

  • Project scope and requirements
  • Specific project management models like Scrum, Agile, Waterfall
  • Planning timelines
  • Budget and resource estimating
  • Process creation and adherence
  • Risk assessment and management
  • Change management
  • Team collaboration and leadership

While these lists are not exhaustive, they reflect the distinct differences where the two roles complement and deliver unique value.

Product vs Project Management-Certification

Product Manager vs. Project Manager Certifications

Since product management and project management were established in the 1930s and 1950s respectively, they have grown and evolved as industries and professional organizations emerged who offer reliable skills training and certifications.

Product managers may choose certifications, including:

  • Product Manager Certificate from the Product School
  • Certified Product Manager from the Association of International Product Marketing & Management (AIPMM)
  • Certified Product Manager from the Pragmatic Institute

Project managers may choose certifications, including:

  • PMP – Project Management Professional from PMI
  • CSM – Certified ScrumMaster from numerous universities and private trainers
  • PSM  1 – Professional ScrumMaster
  • CAPM – Certified Associate in Project Management from PMI
  • SAFe – Scaled Agile Framework

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