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The differences between Project Manager and Product Manager

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Project Manager vs Product Manager - Differences between them

The article describes the informal differences between the project manager and the product manager and gives examples and explains many situations and responsibilities of the two positions.

The formal differences, responsibilities, and obligations for each position should be signed between you and your organization in a normal employment contract.

Unfortunately, your activities will often be too abstract. Often your employer will sign with you documents that contain a paragraph such as "Will perform all other tasks assigned by his immediate supervisor."

Your employment contract and all the documents attached to it will not explain the differences. The documents will protect your organization from yourself and protect the interests of directors from your proactivity, whether you are appointed as a project manager or product manager.

Your duties and responsibilities for the position will often be unlimited and will depend solely on your directors. The article describes the main and fundamental differences.

The report is also valuable for all other positions involved in modern organizations, as well as for all directors who manage project managers and product managers.

All information in the article is aimed at product managers.

If you are a project manager, just reverse the expression and logic of the information. Thus, both positions clearly get their answers.

Project Manager vs Product Manager

As a project manager, you are mainly responsible for the life cycle of the project and its stages of creation, all administrative formalities (project management processes), and especially its variables - scope, quality, time, and cost. Of course, you have a lot of other activities, but they are not the foundation of this role.

The Project management role and formalities

You plan everything and follow the protocol and your expectations. At the end of the project, everything must be delivered according to the agreements.

This is the main thing that, in theory, should excite you. These are also your formal activities as a project manager. Of course, you are also responsible for supplies, external and internal parties, and stakeholders. Sometimes you are even involved in certain HR responsibilities, inspection, and other issues, but they are not the basis of your profession.

The concerns of the Project Manager and the Product Manager

The project manager does not care whether the product will be white or red.

However, as a product manager, in addition to the fact that the color can bother you, you may be the one who will provide requirements for it.

The project manager is often not interested in what will happen to the project once it is completed and delivered.

However, as a product manager, this will be your main concern.

The project manager is rarely interested in whether the product will generate revenue once completed.

As a product manager, this will be another major concern of yours.

The project manager is not interested in the users, but the stakeholders and their satisfaction.

As a product manager, you will be primarily interested in users and then satisfying business stakeholders who are only affected by the amount of investment. Stakeholders and investors are not interested in consumers, but profits. As a product manager, you need to be interested in everything.

You, as a product manager, can plan how much and in what to invest.

The project manager does not do this.

Tools and practices

The project manager uses project management tools, approaches, and practices that help control the aforementioned budgets, quality, scope, and time. The project manager applies their professional skills to them.

The product manager on the other hand works with practices such as market analysis, user analysis, product research practices, benchmarking, product strategy, product vision, product price, return on investment, user experience, usability, business value, production processes, KPI. That's a lot of things. The product manager can also participate in marketing activities. 

The real results. Success or failure

The project manager monitors the implementation according to the documentation and agreements.

As a product manager, if you don't like the color shade of the product, you probably won't be happy. You will not care what exactly is written in a document, but you will defend your idea. There will be conflicts and you will probably cause them.

Purely formal project management procedures such as requests for change, change of plans, and recalculations will begin. They are done by the project manager.

Your request to change the color may not be satisfied if the directors of the project management office do not accept the change and do not approve additional costs.

If your product turns out to be successful even without your request, in the end, you will be ridiculed and everyone will whisper: “Thank God we did not listen to this unreasonable man. The product is successful and we have saved unreasonable costs.

If your product fails and you know it's because of its color, it won't make sense for you to make fun of anyone, as everyone (including you) will have to look for a new job. Your organization may have suffered serious losses. Everyone will whisper, "Why didn't we listen to this smart man?"

Project and Product managers have common goals and causes

The negative scenarios from the above are of course unlikely, as everyone around you, especially your directors and investors, is unlikely to allow this to happen. But still - many projects fail.

You all have to fight together against the possibility of falling into an unpleasant reality. You all need to use your talents, competencies, practices, approaches, and tools.

Problems with work, processes, and colleagues

The project manager usually escalates the problems in the team, if any. A project manager is an individual unit, part of the project management office. Sometimes they are part of the development team, but they are still on the side of their directors and investors.

The product manager can lead an entire division or several, such as marketing, product, design, or all together, depending on your organization. They are usually not part of the PMO. Product managers escalate problems to directors, mainly about the product, but not about team members spending too much time in the entertainment room.

Project managers express their concerns to directors that you have delays. They clearly state the reasons and offer solutions.

Product managers express their concern to directors that users have changed their habits and behavior. A change in strategy and product is needed. They provide data and evidence of this, suggest specific actions to adapt the product.

Project Manager and Product Manager in real life

If it happens that you have mixed responsibilities in your work and you do different tasks, then the position you have been appointed to is simply combined. You may find yourself in a situation where your directors want just that from you.

If it happens that you perform mixed activities on your own initiative without anyone asking you to, then this can mean two main things:

  • You give too much of yourself.
  • You do not understand well your responsibilities and obligations in the organization.

In the first case, it will be due to your personality.

In the second case, this will be due to an inadequate HR department and directors.

The implementation of mixed activities is not necessarily negative. Whether we accept it as negative may depend on:

  • How exactly do we see the situation we are in.
  • Do we manage to cope with all our regulated obligations? Do all additional activities interfere with our work?
  • Do we really manage to do our job well, if we look at it from the side?

Senior Product Manager & Senior Project Manager role (Mixed activities as a positive)

Sometimes having mixed activities can also be seen as positive.

If the organization that hired you wants this from you as a senior professional, then it expects serious competencies from you. You are probably trusted as an expert with a wide range of experience and skills. Your directors will expect you to be a driving force in the whole product, as well as in the processes, from the point of view of their management (project management).

Your salary will probably be very good.

A Senior position with Regular salary (Mixed activities as a negative)

Sometimes the organization that hired you expects mixed activities from you but does not treat you as a senior role and does not officially recognize the large set of your skills. You can do a lot of activities during the working day, but it doesn't matter. Then most likely your directors follow the principle of "one salary for two positions".

There is always a possibility that the organization that hired you inadvertently applies this approach because your directors simply have no idea of ​​the activities and responsibilities of the project manager and product manager. Then just talk to them. Share all your worries and clearly state your request to be accepted as a senior specialist who deserves a senior salary.

About the author

Anton Radev, Senior Writer at Business Value-Oriented Principles

Anton Radev is the founder of Project Management Academy Ltd (PMA), author of books, numerous publications in the field of design, usability, project management, and many others. Anton started his career as a web designer, then worked as a software developer and later became a professional product manager. With over 10 certificates and 20 courses for the last decade, he is defined as a supporter of continuous self-improvement and professional and personal development. By participating in over 70 successful projects over the last 15 years, Anton Radev has proven his professionalism and today teaches his professional skills to many young and ambitious students in the field of project management, Scrum, and product management.

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