People often confuse product managers with project managers, even in industries where both are employed.
This article will outline the key differences between product managers and project managers. You’ll find that despite some inevitable overlap, they are very different roles. Each has their own distinct set of job responsibilities and career goals.
What is a Product Manager?
The product manager role is closely related to brand management. In the 1980s, brand managers were responsible for the success of new product lines. When the software market started to expand, firms recruited Brand Managers to oversee product releases. Companies depended on the expert product knowledge of these professionals in order to successfully launch new brands.
Modern-day product managers follow a similar approach. They are responsible for the success of a new product from beginning to end.
Product Managers must identify opportunities in the market, create new product ideas around these opportunities, and communicate their ideas throughout the organization. They will attempt to create excitement among the stakeholders and decision-makers of the business. If the stakeholders agree with the vision presented to them, the Product Manager must then develop a strategic plan to bring that vision to life.
Responsibilities of a Product Manager
Key responsibilities of a Product Manager include:
- Define the product vision, roadmap, and overall strategy.
- Carry out market research and competitive analysis.
- Gather, manage, and prioritize market/customer requirements.
- Work closely with engineering, marketing, sales, and support teams to meet customer satisfaction goals.
- Coordinate pilot programs during the qualifying phase of the product.
- Ensure the product meets customer expectations in every step of the process.
- Develop strategic positioning for the product.
- Budget and forecast product costs.
Great product managers are able to manage and prioritize each of these responsibilities while also keeping an eye on their long-term goals.
Typical Skills Required in Product Management
Like project managers, product managers need to have a wide range of skills and experience. Below is a list of some required abilities for this role:
- Domain Expertise: Extensive knowledge of the market, the customer, and the product development process.
- Business Expertise: A Product Manager is often referred to as the CEO of a product. They must have a range of fundamental business skills to ensure the product is profitable.
- Leadership Skills: The role will involve team interaction on a daily basis. Strong leadership will help group members operate efficiently.
- Operational Ability: The Product Manager is solely responsible for key product development decisions. Therefore, every aspect of the operation must be understood and managed correctly.
Knowledge and Experience Required to be a Product Manager
Some highly desirable qualities for a career in Product Management include:
- Experience in handling successful product launches
- Excellent communication and writing skills
- A great team player
- The ability to influence cross-functional teams without formal authority
The most common route for starting a new career in Product Management is a bachelor’s degree in a related field. But degrees aren’t everything: now, many employers look for technical abilities and strong portfolios, and place even more priority on a candidate’s proven skills than a diploma. That applies for both product management and project management careers.
Online product management courses are becoming more and more popular. They can be a great alternative to traditional education and are often laser-focused on getting you hired in a high-paying role.
What is a Project Manager?
A Project Manager is responsible for guiding a team from start to finish, through an entire project. In most industries Project Managers are experts in a particular field and have become managers after many years of experience working in their area of expertise. They have a clear understanding of how to efficiently carry out high-level project goals.
In other words, Project Managers are responsible for the execution and implementation of a project plan. In addition, they must ensure the plan is followed, manage large teams, make sure deadlines are met, and report all progress to the company stakeholders.
Responsibilities of a Project Manager
A project manager must perform the following duties:
- Break down large jobs into smaller tasks
- Plan and execute project timelines
- Allocate business resources
- Monitor and track progress
- Report to the stakeholders
- Ensure the project is completed on time
Project management entails all of these tasks, in addition to the administrative responsibilities of managing budgets and teams.
Typical Skills Required in Project Management
Project Managers need to have a wide range of skills and experience:
- Budgeting: The ability to complete a project within a set budget.
- Planning: The ability to efficiently plan tasks and set realistic deadlines.
- Task Management: Prioritize tasks and delegate responsibility to ensure all milestones are met on time and on budget.
- Resource Management: Manage both financial and human resources to ensure the project runs smoothly.
- Risk Management: The more unique a project is, the greater the amount of risk involved. Project Managers must be able to accurately assess risk and put in place contingency plans for worst-case scenarios.
- Critical Thinking: Project Managers make dozens of key decisions on a daily basis. They must be able to think pragmatically and objectively throughout the process.
- Negotiation: A significant part of the role is negotiation and compromise. As a Project Manager, you must understand you can’t please everyone all the time. Good negotiation and communication skills are therefore required to resolve conflicts and settle internal disputes.
- Scheduling: Planning and organization are key to any management role. Being able to accurately schedule tasks will help ensure the project runs efficiently.
Knowledge and Experience Required to be a Project Manager
A career in Project Management requires the following experience:
- Experience handling successful projects that have met business objectives
- Strong teamwork skills
- Excellent communication and writing skills
- A demonstration of strong leadership and organization
- A person relevant work experience an appropriate qualification
The right blend of technical ability and soft skills will make for a lasting, lucrative project management career.
Final Thoughts on Product and Project Management
By now you should have a good understanding of how the roles differ. The product manager is entirely product-focused, while the project manager is concerned with any general business objectives. Even though the roles are different, there is some overlap of responsibilities. If for example, a specific business project involves the development of a new product, both roles must work together and share responsibilities.
It’s worth noting that while textbooks may clearly define each role, in practice, the exact responsibilities can vary from business to business.
If you want to pursue a career as either a Product Manager or Project Manager, it’s vital that you understand exactly what skills are needed, and how to obtain those skills.
You can now master Product Management from the comfort of your own home. Take a 6-month course and learn everything you need to get started on your new career. You will benefit from one-on-one mentoring as you follow our professional curriculum.
For further reading, check out our Product Management blog, where you can find more insightful articles to get you on the path to a new tech career.