Product Manager in a team meeting

Wondering about the difference between Project Management and Product Management?

The two disciplines overlap and share many similarities, yet the role of Project Manager and Product Manager are distinctly different in some very important ways.

Let’s take a look at where the two disciplines overlap and where they differ.

Primary Focus of Project Managers and Product Managers

A Project Manager is concerned with managing projects, with the focus on delivering the project outcome based on quality specifications and within the agreed-upon time and budget constraints.

Once the project deliverable has been handed over to the appropriate stakeholder, the Project Manager closes out the project and moves on to the next one.

A Product Manager, on the other hand, is concerned with the how, what and why of a specific product, maintaining ownership of the product throughout its lifecycle and ensuring it receives updates and features as needed to fulfill its objectives.

The Product Manager oversees all aspects of the product, from analysis to release, and often beyond.

What is a Project?

To really understand how the role of project manager differs from that of product manager, it’s useful to start with a simple question:

What is a project, anyway?

Seems like that question would have an obvious answer, but you’d be surprised how varied the responses can be.

For our purposes, we’ll go with the definition provided by the Project Management Institute’s PMBOK Guide, which defines a project as “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique project service or result.

Note the word “temporary” in the definition, because this is key.

Projects have a specific beginning and a specific end.

Once the project objective has been met, the project is closed, and the project manager moves on to the next project.

What is Project Management?

If a project is undertaken to produce a unique service or result, and it is a temporary endeavor, then it follows that Project Management involves everything required to produce that unique service or result during that very specific timeframe.

Simple enough, right?

Project Management deals with applying knowledge, processes, methods, skills and experience to achieve a project’s stated objectives.

What Does a Project Manager Do?

Project Managers are responsible for the overall project and its end result, whatever that may be.

Project Managers keep everything organized, determine which methods to use based on a project’s needs and the team’s strengths and weaknesses — a concept known as tailoring — and manage stakeholders and tasks, with a particular focus on communication and teamwork.

Project Managers are responsible for ensuring a project meets its objectives and quality requirements within the time and budget constraints that were agreed upon during project initiation.

That means delivering what was requested — and only what was requested — on time and without going over budget.

What is a Product?

A product is a good or service that satisfies the needs of a target group.

A product can be pretty much anything, from virtual services, such as software, to physical items, such as hand soap.

Again, the distinction here is important, because while a project is a temporary endeavor to achieve some stated outcome, a product is often not temporary, requiring ongoing oversight and management.

What is Product Management?

Product Management is a strategic role that oversees every aspect of the product lifecycle, from planning to developing, launching and managing a product or service.

Product Management focuses on the product itself and on the product’s users, or target market.

What Does a Product Manager Do?

Product Managers are responsible for the product and its customers, overseeing the product from inception to release, and managing every phase of the product lifecycle.

They manage the team that creates, launches, and maintains a product.

The product manager also helps establish, and enforce, the vision and strategy for a product, overseeing development of the product, working with stakeholders, and generally ensuring the product meets customer needs and is successful.

Key Differences Between Project Management and Product Management

While Project Management and Product Management share similarities, they have distinct differences that make each role unique, such as:

  • Project Management has a definite timeframe, while Product Management does not necessarily.
  • In Project Management, the goal or end result is clearly defined, while in Product Management, the deliverable itself may evolve many times throughout its lifecycle.
  • Product Management has a wider scope and operation, and oftentimes more overall responsibilities than Project Management.
  • Product Managers typically possess a wide range of skills that don’t necessarily overlap to Project Management, such as marketing accumen.
  • A Project Manager’s primary objective is to ensure the end result is delivered at the expected quality level and within the timeframe and budget that were established. A Product Manager’s primary objective is to serve the target audience and oversee the product itself for as long as it exists.