Project Manager vs Product Manager – What’s the difference?

Martin Večeřa

This is a frequently asked question as the very close role names cause confusion. Let’s examine Project Manager vs Product Manager problem in more detail – what are the differences and what do they have in common?

First, these two roles are most typical in software companies. However, they can be present at any company creating products (be it a physical product, or a service). In smaller companies, these roles can even be represented by a single person.

First, let’s see what a product and a project are. A product is any good, service, or idea that can be offered to a market to satisfy a want or need. In general, a product is defined as a thing produced by labor or effort or the result of an act or a process.

The word process leads us to the definition of a project. A project is defined as a temporary endeavour with a beginning and an end and it must be used to create a unique product, service or result.

The Roles

As you can see, the project is a path you walk on and the product is the target destination. This is reflected in both of the roles of a Project and a Product Manager.

Product Managers are described as the owners of their products. In a nutshell, a Product Manager is responsible for shaping the product (product design); for bringing in the ideas and wishes of the market, customers, prospects, internal solution architects or sales representatives etc. Despite the word manager in the role name, the product manager does not manage anyone.

A Project Manager is responsible for driving the project, typically a product launch. The Project Manager collects information from all stakeholders (including the Product Manager), facilitates communication, prioritizes product features in an alignment with the schedule so that the deadlines are met and the product has expected quality and abilities.

The Difference

From the time point of view, a product is something that has a much longer lifespan than a project. A project can be seen as a release of a certain version of a product (a software application, a car make, a sight seeing tour). The product then gets improved over time and such improvements can be lead as another projects. Like adding features to a software, releasing a face-lifted version of a car, adding some more demanded sights to the tour. Over the life of the product, it is improved via many projects.

An important part of the Project Manager’s role are so called triages. Because in the project management, things do not go always well and as planned and or expected. There are regular triage meetings that deal with the unexpected. Their origin is in software development where these meetings review existing bugs or defects. Those meetings have been widely adopted even outside of software development. They are used to update plans, priorities, expectations or anything that was set. The most important thing is that all stakeholders are involved in the communication and play an equal role.

For each of the unexpected situations, there are typically the following steps:

  1. Identification of an issue/problem/challenge to solve,
  2. suggested solutions,
  3. constructive discussion,
  4. agreement among all stakeholders on the next actions/steps to take.

In Lumeer, we have several templates to fulfil the needs of both the Product and the Project Managers as well as the triages. Try them for free now:

Hopefully, the question of Project Manager vs Product Manager has been finally answered.

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