Product management vs project management — what’s the difference? Not much, according to some, but if you treat these two separate concepts as one, you’ll run into a lot of confusion and not much productivity.
To help you out, we’re going to define what each concept means before looking at five crucial distinctions between them. Along the way, we’ll cover product vs project manager differences to give you a clear understanding of how to distinguish each role and put the right people in the right position.
Product management focuses on the strategy behind the creation, development, launch, and later modifications of a product. It involves a lot of market research, focusing on what customers need but also on your internal business goals.
A product manager’s role is similar to that of a CEO, but instead of dealing with the business as a whole, the focus is on a specific product. Typical tools in a product manager’s arsenal include customer feedback, market analysis, and product roadmap systems. A manager will consider the “what” and “why” of a product and use the responses to those questions as the basis for making changes and upgrades.
Project management is a more isolated effort that works on specific and temporary goals rather than a continued, ongoing mission. The aim of a project could be to conceive of a unique product or service, while product management would take over for continued maintenance of the product or service.
Project managers are facilitators to achieve the overarching goal. In practice, this means smart budgeting, task scheduling, and resource allocation. Project managers rely heavily on project management tools to assess people’s availability and create a roadmap to stay within budget and time constraints. Less conceptual than product managers, project managers look closely at the “how” and “when”, dealing more with the logistics rather than the creative ideation.
One critical distinction in the product management vs project management debate lies in their respective lifecycles. Each process unfolds in unique stages, driven by different goals and deliverables.
The first thing to note is that product lifecycles are long-term and continuous, featuring multiple iterations of the same general concept. The reason product management is more ongoing is that the goal is to continuously align the product with customer demands, which are in constant flux. Product teams will closely monitor customer analytics for changes in behavior, as well as social media platforms to identify changes in expectations.
Take a mobile phone manufacturer, for example. For each release of a specific model, product managers won’t go back to the drawing board and create an entirely new phone. Instead, they will gather feedback on previous models, mix it with breakthroughs in technology and produce a new version of the phone with enough upgrades to make it appealing to their client base.
On the other hand, project lifecycles have a clear duration with a specific start and end date. The lifecycle will contain different stages, such as planning, execution, monitoring, controlling, and delivery, before the project is marked complete. This means strategic planning for projects is more focused on deadlines and removing any threats to progress.
While there are clear product vs project manager differences in terms of lifecycles, both will rely heavily on task management software to plan and monitor the progress of their process. Both managers will share their software with their team members to give each individual a birds-eye view of the timeline, with periodic milestones for visual simplicity.
When it comes to key stakeholders, product management is more client-facing, while a project manager is more likely to focus on internal stakeholders.
A product manager usually interacts with external stakeholders such as customers, vendors, and market influencers. The type of discussions they hold are generally information-gathering, whether enquiring into what customers want to see on a new release or what feedback their vendors have picked up from direct customer interaction.
It is in a product manager’s interest to maintain good relationships with clients but also to collect structured data for later analysis. Therefore, as well as using a customer relationship management (CRM) system to keep records of customer interactions, product managers use CRM forms to compile actionable data. This data enables them to make informed decisions that enhance the product's value proposition.
Project managers are more inwardly focused, concentrating more on keeping their teams on track and removing roadblocks to their progress. Communication between project managers and their stakeholders is largely centered on issuing instructions and resolving issues. When they do look externally, it is usually to deliver project reports to clients and to manage their expectations.
Most of a project manager’s work is concentrated on task management tools and organized into agile visualizations such as a Kanban board or Gantt chart. This is where tasks are marked as done, issues are flagged, and task-relevant discussion takes place. However, they also frequently use video conferencing calls to announce updates to all stakeholders or a specific section, such as internal teams.
Despite the name suggesting a more B2C approach, customer relationship management systems are equally effective for both roles. However, product managers will focus more on gathering data from customers and vendors, while project managers will use the same tool to interact with investors, team members, and external providers.
With different roles come different skills. Here we’ll take a look at the specific abilities needed to succeed as a product manager and how they contrast with those that define a project manager.
Market understanding. Without an awareness of the market they’re dealing with, product managers can’t meet customer demands. As a result, product managers will often have in-depth industry experience to react to market shifts.
Strategic thinking. Although also true for project managers, product managers need to think long-term while simultaneously balancing customer and company priorities.
Data analysis. Experience in data analysis is vital to making sense of a chaotic world of feedback and reviews. Most product managers will have first-hand experience in using data analytics tools to make informed decisions.
Planning and organization. Project managers don’t necessarily need an in-depth understanding of their product or market. They are more concerned with people and resource management and leave a lot of the creativity to departmental leaders.
Risk management. The best project managers are masters of foreseeing risks and making sure they don’t affect the overall project. This usually comes with a lot of experience, but new project managers can also dive into case studies to better prepare themselves.
Communication and stakeholder management. Managing a project entails conveying a vision, keeping stakeholders engaged, and providing clear and concise instruction. Poor communication and relationship management can be a serious hindrance to project success.
While both roles require a high level of planning, the scope and focus of the strategy differ significantly.
When product managers sit down to plan, they can often be overwhelmed by the amount of planning to do. Without a defined start and finish, it can be a daunting task and can often be difficult to sell to superiors and investors.
Therefore, product managers need to be adept at creating a comprehensive product roadmap. This will include tangible milestones for success, which helps to motivate teams and create buzz among customers. In truth, every update and iteration will follow a similar cycle, for example:
Market research → Planning → Prototype testing → Validation → Launch → Analysis
Once a cycle has been successfully completed, the roadmap can be saved as a template, ready to implement again for the following cycle.
Project managers often work under tight schedules and therefore have to be meticulous about their planning. As deadlines are more of a focal point, managers need to use time-tracking software to measure how long each task takes to better plan for the future.
Another major concern for strategic planning is the element of risk. When faced with uncertain roadmaps, it’s not easy to identify every risk out there. Therefore, project managers will create a risk management document, complete with mitigation tactics. At the same time, they will factor in free time throughout the project to provide leeway for late deliveries or unexpected delays.
Despite the differences between product management vs project management in terms of strategic planning, both will use powerful planning and scheduling software that can both organize tasks and create clear, presentable roadmaps for stakeholders.
Perhaps the most stark difference between product and project management is their metrics for success.
The ultimate goal of product management is to create a product that is successful in the open market. However, it also has to be financially viable for the company itself.
Key among the key performance indicators for product management are:
Customer satisfaction. If customers are happy with a product, one of the key metrics has been achieved. Managers will measure this through customer feedback forms as well as sales and online reviews.
Market share. A product becomes even more successful by not only appealing to users but by making competitors’ products redundant. A combination of sales data and market research will give a good indication.
Profit margins. While high revenue generation is always positive, if the costs incurred on creating a product don’t allow for acceptable profit margins, the effort can’t be considered a success.
In an ideal world, all projects will achieve their key goals while coming in under budget and ahead of time.
Project managers will therefore base their success on factors such as:
Stakeholder satisfaction. If the project achieves all the primary and secondary goals of the brief, it can be considered a success. However, it is always worth running feedback campaigns with superiors, team members, and potential clients to adapt and improve future projects.
On-time delivery. This is fairly self-explanatory, but managers need to constantly monitor progress through checkpoints throughout the project to avoid a snowball effect as they close in on the final deadline.
Sticking to the budget. If it is clear that the project will go over budget, a project manager should be able to rely on cost-saving measures outlined in their risk management strategy.
As we’ve seen, the differences between product management vs project management require distinct skills, expectations, and workflows. These role differences make it quite difficult to assign the same person to both areas. Consequently, the variations in the key tools used mean that companies often find themselves forking out a lot of money on the software needed to get the best out of both roles.
However, with Bitrix24, you can save yourself the extra expenditure by using our all-in-one platform to give your teams everything they need for success:
Task management tools to plan projects and create product roadmaps.
Communication systems covering internal collaboration and customer feedback.
Powerful analytics to monitor internal performance as well as market trends.
So as you’re forming your product and project management teams, sign up for Bitrix24 and give them the best headstart with solid tech for modern business.
A product manager oversees the strategic development of a product, focusing on customer needs, market trends, and business goals. A project manager ensures the successful execution of a project, coordinating resources and tasks to achieve specific objectives within a set timeframe and budget.
Key differences between product management and project management include:
The differences in product and project management affect the organization through the kinds of resources they draw on, the tools they require, and the communication strategies they employ. Addressing each area separately allows businesses to optimize operations, improving product development and project execution.