The technology industry is rife with jargon — especially in job titles.
These terms often lead to confusion when roles sound alike but serve distinct purposes. Think: senior, chief, principal.
This same ambiguity often makes it difficult to determine the differences between product managers versus project managers. But discovering each role’s nuanced responsibilities, skills, and organizational impact means writing clearer job descriptions so employees better understand expectations. And knowing how these teammates work together to achieve overarching company goals will help you leverage their teamwork to achieve greater success.
What’s a product manager?
A product manager oversees the ideation, creation, and launch of a physical or software-based item, with a strong focus on how this product will satisfy a target market’s needs. This work starts with ensuring a product is feasible. From there, product owners assist the production team in developing something that checks all the boxes for end users, which could be an employer, client, or customer.
A product manager’s responsibilities cover the entire product lifecycle — from ideation to feature updates. Product management typically includes the following tasks:
- Researching product ideas
- Conducting feasibility studies
- Crafting strategic product creation and launch plans
- Expressing a product’s value to high-level execs and external stakeholders
- Creating and maintaining the product roadmap
- Working with cross-functional teams — like development, marketing, and finance — to ensure product creation and release is successful
What’s a project manager?
A project manager leads their team to complete a specific initiative. This involves creating project plans, monitoring task progress, and balancing constraints to ensure employees hit every milestone.
Creating a product could be the overall project a team works on — and broader project work might involve creating products. But that’s not necessarily the case. Some non-product-related initiatives include:
- Implementing a new company-wide communication system
- Actioning a marketing strategy
- Creating onboarding documentation
To assist their team in achieving success, project management often involves:
- Defining a project’s scope, timeline, and necessary resources
- Communicating progress to all stakeholders
- Facilitating team task work and collaboration
- Managing stakeholder expectations
- Balancing project constraints
Project managers aren’t always department-specific. Some teams categorize projects by complexity, deliverables, or investment type, to name a few. And project management styles can differ greatly. A few common methodologies are:
- Critical path method
- Six Sigma
Managers might choose a company-wide methodology (like if an employer has implemented Agile at Scale) or a personal preference (perhaps they enjoy the sequential nature of waterfall versus the more flexible, iterative approach agile prioritizes). Ultimately, they’ll choose the method that best helps their team complete project work and stick to it.
5 key differences between product and project managers
While both manager types assist teams in completing important company initiatives, understanding these five crucial differences will help you clearly delegate roles — or understand your own more thoroughly.
1. Final outcomes
Project managers focus on achieving all project plan deliverables, whether those pertain to product creation and launch or not. And product managers ensure cross-functional teams create and launch a successful physical or software-based item.
Project managers typically document:
- Project plans and roadmaps
- Action item lists
- Progress tracking via tools like Gantt charts and Kanban boards
- Risk assessments and mitigation plans
- KPIs relevant to completing project deliverables
Product managers typically document:
- Product idea research
- Market research
- Feasibility studies
- Product roadmaps
- Launch strategies
- KPIs relevant to product creation and launch
3. Career path
Both project and product managers typically have at least a bachelor’s degree, sometimes a graduate degree, depending on their area of study. Management or business majors have strong foundations to work in corporate environments, but many areas of study prime individuals to learn the organization and strategic thinking these roles require.
You can also enter each profession with enough work experience, but the way you achieve this differs between product management versus project management. For the former, this usually means working your way up through an organization while showcasing excellent time and task management skills. And for the latter, you might have extensive experience developing or working with a product that equips you to oversee similar product creation.
4. Skill set
Any management position requires leadership skills, quick yet effective problem-solving, and flexible communication techniques. But here are some role-specific skills:
- Project managers must know how to manage all five phases of the project management lifecycle: initiation, planning, scheduling, tracking, and closing. They must also have excellent task management skills and know how to motivate different teammate types to ensure a project’s success.
- Product managers must know how to oversee all five product-creation phases: development, introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. They must also know how to conduct extensive research and convince stakeholders of a product’s feasibility and value.
A project manager is a tactical organizer that focuses on coordinating work to complete all tasks within a project plan. And a product manager’s role is that of a visionary strategist set on creating, releasing, and updating products the target market loves.
How do these teammates work together?
The best way to understand the collaborative work between these positions is with an example. Say a company wants to create a new app. The product manager will be in charge of app development and launch, but within this work, there are various team and deliverable-specific projects, like:
- Crafting a six-month marketing plan
- Making a website
- Designing the app’s UX/UI elements
- Back-end development
- Search-engine-optimization for website content
- Feature-specific work
The product and all relevant project managers will team up to break work down into specific initiatives. Various project managers own certain projects, working with those teams to complete tasks. Throughout the creation and launch process, these managers will check in frequently to relay progress across each stage.
For any project involving product creation, these managers work together during the planning phase. The former might need to relay team-specific information like bandwidths and expertise to the product managers to ensure product roadmaps are accurate. And the product team might need to explain a product’s target audience and critical success factors so project managers know how to prioritize tasks.
Both managers also work together when assessing an initiative’s success. Project managers can provide insights like reasons for delays (such as reduced resources or sick employees). Product managers can discuss what worked and what didn’t for final deliverables or communication plans, which is all information project managers can use to inform future project plans.
Let Tempo assist both product and project management
While there are important differences, like focus, responsibilities, and skill sets, both managers require efficient and effective tools that support the planning process. Try Roadmunk by Tempo to create flexible roadmap visualizations for your team. Then, use Timesheets by Tempo to track task progress and quickly notice delays.