Understanding the differences between a Product Manager and a Project Manager

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Tech companies have what seem to be an endless array of roles in all fields, from marketing, to content, development, user experience, and so many more, and occasionally, some of these seem to blend, as is the case with product management and project management.

It is not unusual to mix these up, with the name similarity and the constant interaction between the people who lead these roles; however, the responsibilities for each one of these are not the same.

What is Product Management?

To understand what the Product Management role entails, it is important to define that a product is a good that satisfies the needs of a target market. The Product Manager’s role is to focus on the development and releases of said product through its entire lifecycle. They must ensure that what they’re working on, whether it is a product or a feature, fulfills both the customer needs and the project and business objectives. This strategic role focuses on the what and the why of a product.

When looking at this role from a Scrum perspective, the Product Manager often tends to act as both the Product Manager and the Product Owner. If one person is taking over both roles, they would be in charge of internal and external responsibilities such as representing the customer’s voice as the backlog gets refined as well as validating what is being done, amongst other tasks. If the roles belong to different people, the Project Manager is primarily in charge of external responsibilities, such as validating the client’s needs and creating the overall roadmap for the product owner to then take over the backlog, epics and corresponding user stories.

What is Project Management?

The Project Manager, as said by the title, oversees projects. A project, with its outcomes and deliverables, is the recollection of tasks that together accomplish a goal. The person that leads this role focuses on coordinating, managing, and overseeing. They help their teams get organized while they coordinate, track, execute and manage communication with the stakeholders. This role focuses on the how and when of a project.

Although this role is not traditionally defined in Scrum, according to the PMI and the set of tasks project managers usually handle, such as defining scopes, monitoring processes, managing resources, documenting, and foreseeing and handling any possible blockers, the presence of a Project Manager strengthens and leads their teams to accomplish the goals and expectations in the best ways possible.

Product Manager vs Project Manager responsibilities

Daily, Product Managers must work on uniting the different aspects that may constitute a product, from UX, to the technology and business aspects to gather data, create roadmaps, prioritize work and launches, and manage the backlog. While they do not manage people, their role aims to manage relationships, overseeing cross departmental communication and interactions through empathy and big picture thinking.

Project Managers, on the other hand, are the main leaders and communicators between the team and the client. They guide their team towards project progress in order to meet the deadlines and expectations. As the leaders, they will be the first person either the client or the team turns to when a problem arises, so they should excel in adaptability and problem solving skills. They manage the money budget and expectations to ensure client and stakeholder satisfaction.

Just like with most other roles, the daily tasks of a product and a project manager vary and may even overlap. Every organization, every project and even every team you work with will be different but within each one of these, a project manager and a product manager will always play a key role for overall success.