7 December, 2023

Product Manager and Project Manager: What’s the Difference?

By Mike Clayton

product manager, Project Manager

The Project Manager and Product Manager roles are different. Yet they are also somewhat similar. It’s no surprise that many people are keen to understand the comparison.

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Product Manager and Project Manager: Comparison

A product manager manages the lifecycle of a product, while a project manager manages the lifecycle of a project.

The Key Difference

But the key difference is that a product is a long-lived saleable thing or service, that may be part of a business portfolio of saleable assets indefinitely. A project is a temporary endeavor that produces one or more products, and then winds up.

The product lifecycle is likely to include the need for a number of projects – like developing a new version of the product, creating and mounting a marketing campaign, or securing a logistics agreement for the warehousing and distribution of the product.

Facile Comparisons

Simple infographic ‘this or that’ comparisons like ‘The product manager has the vision while the project manager does the work’ are facile. But there are a number of helpful points of comparison we can make.

However, I do recommend you also look at my two videos,

Differences between Product Management and Project Management

Strategy

Firstly, it is certainly true that product managers have a role in determining the strategy for their product, while project managers’ role is to execute the strategy of their client or sponsor. However, we could also argue that project managers have a role in determining the strategy by which they will deliver the outcomes for their client or sponsor.

Features

Both product and project managers have a role in determining what features will go into the product or service they are responsible for. However, the product manager usually has a significant say in determining the final feature set, whereas the project manager’s role is to facilitate the decision process among stakeholders.

Balance

Both product and project managers also need to be mindful of the complex interplay among schedule, cost, value, quality, feature set, resource demands, and risk. However, it is likely that their priorities will be different and that the project manager will be led more by the priorities of their boss, client, or sponsor.

Portfolio

Senior product and project managers may each manage a portfolio – of products or of projects (called a program). In both cases, the responsibility will include managing the interfaces between activities, schedules, and constraints among them.

Operations vs Projects

The biggest difference is that product management is an operational role. It places a product manager in a position of stewardship for a product for their term in that role. And then, they hand over responsibility to the next product manager. They measure their success on the sales of the product and the levels of customer satisfaction it generates.

Project managers lead temporary organizations called projects. Usually, they will take on the project at the outset and see it through to the end. They measure their success by the success of the project in delivering its goals, and planned benefits, within the budget, schedule, and other constraints the client imposes.

Carefully curated video recommendations for you:


What Kit does a Project Manager Need?

I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own. 

Check out the Kit a Project Manager needs

Note that the links are affiliated.

Learn Still More

For more great Project Management videos, please subscribe to the OnlinePMCourses YouTube channel.

If you want basic Management Courses – free training hosted on YouTube, with 2 new management lessons a week, check out our sister channel, Management Courses.

For more of our Project Management videos in themed collections, join our Free Academy of Project Management.

For more of our videos in themed collections, join our Free Academy of Project Management

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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