Project vs Product Manager

Project vs Product Manager: Which One Is Better?

16 min. read

Project managers and product managers are both holding vital responsibilities for companies across various industries. Most people think that these positions are not so different at all, and they consider that both positions are management roles. In this article, we are going to dig deeper into the primary functions of these roles under the title “Project vs Product Manager”.

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Before diving into the comparison and commonalities between project vs product managers, it is essential to state that the popularity of both roles is increasing tremendously. Nevertheless, there are recently defined roles derived from project management methodology while new management methodologies are spreading like Agile. People assume that most of them have only slight differences however the truth is the total opposite in practical approach. Business organizations need both roles to produce successful outcomes. Competent professionals execute the project and product life cycles as project and product managers.

Project vs Product Manager

Project vs Product Manager

Firstly, we need to have a clear understanding of the meaning of project and product to business organizations prior to starting comparison of “project vs product manager”. Professionals have to use their short term and long term strategies in different levels of thinking and culture for project processes and product management processes. In today’s challenging business world, all processes of both terms are uniting for gaining high customer satisfaction in the market. Team members should also understand the product perspective during project work to meet customer expectations accurately. At this point, project and product managers have an equal responsibility to establish a core knowledge about project and product flows in teams.

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What is a Project In Terms of Project vs Product Manager?

A project is a temporary endeavor, which aims to produce the possible highest value under the various floating conditions during an agreed project time period.

In most cases, a project has a certain start and end date at the beginning of the project work. Therefore project manager receives a defined scope, financial budget, and resources for satisfying the requirements of the project. The project manager releases the project team when the project outcomes are ready to deliver and also receive an acceptance from the project sponsors. That means, when the project is completed, disbanded project team members are ready for another project.

The development of a new feature for a software application, the construction of a skyscraper, the digital transformation of a primitive organization, the design of a brand new airplane, the expansion of a manufacturer into new markets, the adoption of a new management methodology in a corporate company – all are projects.

All of the above project examples must be flawlessly managed to deliver significant project outcomes, which are created on-time and on-budget according to a project plan.

What is a Product In Terms of Project vs Product Manager?

Customers don’t know about project status, project performance, or project schedule, and also they care none of them. They only care about real working products or active services that serve their needs and requirements. As a consequence of that, the product concept took a place in every layer of business and technical workflows and processes.

A product is designed to constantly generate value, benefits, service, and comfort for clients by providing solutions to their problems.

Products have more durability and permanence, are continuous processes and entities that we implement rapidly, develop regularly with time-bounded project works. In other words, a product is not a short term objective or a limited task.

Distinctive aspects of a product vs project:

1. Products have permanent life cycles until their usage comes to an end. Projects have a planned start and end date at the beginning.

2. Products have long-term and dedicated business and technical teams. Projects have short-term assigned team members till the delivery date.

3. The product life cycle is managed with iterative planning. On the other hand, the project life cycle is managed with up-front planning.

4. The continuous improvement process is a valid development and enhancement insight for products. Projects include one time or a given amount of phase by phase delivery.

5. The main motivation for product improvement is adapting to evolving customer needs. Conversely, pre-defined project requirements form the purposes of a project.

Project vs Product Manager

Who is a Project Manager?

To give more details about Project vs Product Manager we have to look at both of those roles more closely. Project managers manage a predetermined scope of business and technical requirements from the beginning of the project to its end. They have responsibility for a single project or a group of projects. Their primary duty is to execute the strategy specified by the product manager or leadership team. A project manager’s goal is to collaborate with a broader team with a wide set of skills and to deliver a project on time and under budget.

Project managers are in charge of the successful delivery of project outputs within an agreed scope, budget, and schedule. Furthermore, the project manager plans the project work with information from project stakeholders, and maintain the tasks in the plan with the project team members.

The complexity of project management is managing the tasks and scope of the project in order. They must be processed in a delicate line between quality, cost, and time. For example, if the targeted delivery date is cut down, the project team must either increase costs or reduce scope in order to keep quality.

Details of Project Management Role

Project managers then provide their project team members with elaborate instructions for the solution they will develop during the project life cycle. All types of projects have a common point that these instructions are compatible with the project schedule, the order of all tasks, complete with dependencies, and resource assignments for all tasks.

The foremost aim of project managers is to maximize the quality and minimizing the risk by ensuring that the objectives of the project are fully satisfied. Another way of saying project managers’ aim is to manage the project by securing to deliver on time, on scope, on budget, and to minimize risk and firmly control change.

A project manager can work efficiently under pressure and handle change and complexity in vigorous project and business environments. They can analyze and take decisions between the “big picture” and the small important details, knowing when to focus on each.

Project managers have an extensive and variant toolkit of techniques, turning sophisticated, interdependent activities into tasks that are categorized, documented, observed, and controlled. They transfer their previous experience and knowledge to the circumstances and impediments of each project, knowing that there is not a single way or method for all kinds of projects. And they are continuously developing their own and their teams’ skills and expertise through lessons-learned workshops at project closing.

Key Project Manager Responsibilities

1. Project Planning: This includes planning everything in a project including activity, resource, budget planning. Project managers make sure that the project plan is realistic regarding the project environment and its requirements. Since a project can be successful only with the right people, human resource planning and gathering a skillful team are critical responsibilities of project managers. Good plans are open to adjustments so they can be adapt to the changing conditions during the execution. This guarantees customer satisfaction when it is time for delivering the project.

2. Team Motivator: Effective project managers always keep the status and mood of their team members as one of their top priorities. They know that people of the project do and complete the project work till the delivery time. Because of that, one of their duty is keeping the project team calm and happy.

3. Controlling The Status of The Project: Sponsors periodically demand the status of the project as a report. Then he measures the progress according to the snapshot of the completed number of tasks, spent budget, and remaining risk items on the plan. For this reason, project managers keep the track of the overall status and transform it to project reports to make visible the condition properly.

4. Fulfilling Customer Expectation: The main goal of a project is to satisfy the customer at the end of the project. They do not like unwanted surprises. To prevent any kind of failure, project managers keep an eye on the customers. They maintain high-quality communication.

Project vs Product Manager

Important Project Manager Skills

1. Leadership: As a project manager, the person has to manage team members, business stakeholders, upper management, and sponsors alongside the project tasks. There are different applicable styles of leadership that are related to the characteristics of the team and the project environment. The project manager should choose the appropriate leadership style wisely and apply it effectively.

2. Communication: A project is started, maintained, and ended with communication skills and methods. As a project manager, you need to explain clearly the work, status, and target to people who are interacted with the project. Because of that the communication level and quality build the direct success of the project.

3. Negotiating: Project managers need constant negotiation skills for managing demands during the execution and other phases. They also need to balance people in case of the inevitable conflicts. If you have striking negotiation skills, you can resolve issues fast and turn them into opportunities.

4. Scheduling: This skill harbors both soft skills and hard skills. Prior knowledge about time management and scheduling methods is required for creating a flawless project schedule and achieving the goals of the project within the determined deadlines that have been agreed upon and published through the stakeholders. There are many applications, tools, and methods that can support executing this process.

5. Cost Management: A project consists of various phases that contain budget-related tasks. The project manager must have control over the project budget and make sure that the project budget meets the financial objectives of the project. If you have limited funds, you have to be extra careful in dealing with the costs and payments.

Who is a Product Manager?

Now we have come to the details of the product manager role in our Project vs Product Manager comparison. Opposite of a project, that can cover a period in time, a product is created and released for long term goals and assets. Basically, product management is positioned between business, technology, and end customers. A decent product manager must be fluent in at least one of the above, have knowledge about all of them, and warm with people related to all of these aspects.

The Product Managers have responsibility for a product’s performance through the end to end product life cycle. They concentrate on the results more than the causes. Product managers hold a high-level view. And they conduct the advancement and progress of the product. In order to evaluate the role of product managers in Project vs Product manager comparison, let’s look at the most common duties of this role.

Responsibilities of Product Managers

1. Customer Relationship

A good product manager knows the customer, the problems of current customers, and the expectations of future customers. Product managers find first beta customers, who can work with and can provide feedback. In addition, they establish a 1–1 relationship with happy customers who have been using the product for a year and ask them to take time for a case study. A handful product manager also prepares the case study, write the text, compose the story, and publish it on the web page if it is necessary.

2. Story Telling

Product managers can fluently tell a very good and charming story. When presenting the product, they sell stories and dreams, not features. Understanding the needs of customers and developing special setups for them are other focal points of striking product managers. They communicate with the press. In this process, it again makes use of these stories and does not bring the technical features of the product to the fore.

3. Marketing

The marketing of the product is one of the main duties of product managers. They also listen to feedback from marketing teams. A creative product manager composes “Drip marketing” rules. They train potential customers who leave their e-mail address according to the prescribed criteria. They have basic web page preparation skills. Additionally, they determine the price of the product or price levels, while doing so, examines other products. Moreover, they know that a low price does not always generate more sales. If necessary, they make pricing according to the customer. If the product does not meet expectations, they do not rush to take critical decisions without analyzing the results.

Project vs Product Manager

4. Design

Product managers have a deep knowledge of design and user experience. However, they do not have an obsession with them. As they hold a designer role, then they work in harmony with the team. They can tell the team what he wants in detail. If necessary, they prepare the basic drawings beforehand and prepare the analysis document briefly. They know when to use which features. Their product experience eliminates unnecessary parts and losing precious time.

5. Collaborative Working Environment

By working as a conductor, a Kickstarter product manager encourages the active participation of the other teams in the company during the product development process. They balance the wishes and demands of each of these groups, ensure that all groups are synchronized so as to increase sales and complement the product vision.

6. Competitor Analysis

Product managers know the competitors’ similar products better than them. They aware of the market and follow their rivals on all kinds of channels (social media, web, blog).

7. Prioritization of Product Tasks

They do not create financial, technological, or administrative excuses. They focus primarily on the product and use their time efficiently. Most importantly they deal with events, not people. A product manager focuses not only on the product itself but also on the revenue and the customer. How many features are in the product is of secondary importance? Instead of trying to solve all the problems of its customers immediately, they make a priority and time plan and draw a development plan accordingly.

8. Communication Between The Related Parties

Product managers take care to make the product development process transparent throughout the organization. They establish communication with teammates on solid foundations even when the ideas from the team seem meaningless. Product managers involve their teammates, delegates work when necessary, and ensures the maximum number of outputs. The product managers do not catch up with every job. For this reason, they avoid short-term cause-effect relationships by establishing long-term communication with both the team and customers. A product manager can empathize with their teammates and establish communication on a more solid basis.

9. Planning The Development of The Product

Product managers use qualitative and quantitative values ​​to develop the product. Besides, a product manager has an idea of how much time and cost will be spent on developing a specific feature. Product managers monitor the product roadmap and time plan weekly. Product managers get everyone’s opinion before conveying thought to the product. They coordinate all the necessary actions from end to end before the new version is released. Product managers are aware of technological developments. They work with the developer team to reflect on the product where necessary.

10. Owner of The Product

Product managers know every point of the product well. They are as knowledgeable as the testers. A product manager knows and monitors all customer complaints from whom and how many times. They create the development roadmap of their product in accordance with these complaints. Product managers can look at the big picture of the product.

11. Preparing Training Material and Planning Training Tasks

They prepare product training documents and videos. If they work with a third party company for this process, they will be involved and dominate the process from end to end with them. And also, they train the sales team regularly. They play an active role in sales strategies.

12. Collecting Customer Feedbacks

They find customers who use the new feature of the product, listen to them, receive feedback, and share it with the team. They share positive feedback from similarly satisfied customers with the whole team, provide trust, and spread motivation to the organization.

13. Establishing New Partnerships

They search for potential business partnerships. Besides they determine with whom it will cooperate in order to spread the product in the target geography and puts them into practice.

In a nutshell, the product manager is the person who holds together rapid development, team play, customer recognition, the ability to sell more. They also increase user experience – and countless skills here.

The Place of Product Owner Role Between Project vs Product Manager

The role of the Product Owner is another dimension of the comparison “Project vs Product Manager”, as this role has similar responsibilities on project or product development life cycle depending on the organization. Furthermore, this role came into being after the appearance of Agile project management. Though similar to Project vs Product Manager in many ways, the Product Owner works more with the entire Agile team. The PO has the responsibility for the end result of the product development. However, instead of defining and planning tasks to complete, they carry out determining the product priorities and conducting customer and team communication.

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The Product Owner has a routine working closely with the Agile team and Scrum Master. Then they participate in Scrum meetings to monitor the progress of sprint items. The PO plans a set of sprint scope with backlogs containing business stories for task completion.

The Collaboration Between The Roles

Product management is a business function. On the other hand, the product owner is a technical role in the Agile development methodology. In the same organizations, both roles take part in the product life cycle and they share the responsibilities. The product manager demands new features for the products with detailed business flows. Subsequently, the product owner aims to deliver successful sprint outcomes to the product manager. In order to satisfy the product manager, the PO transforms business flows into user stories for the development team and communicates as a representative of the customer with the Scrum team.

In some Agile frameworks, organizations position product managers as the managers of product owners. And they have the responsibility of external interactions, communications, and tasks. Product managers interact with business and individual customers. They define the scope of the new enhancements for the product and pass their requests on to the product owners. The product owners maintain the internal-facing tasks and duties. They mostly work with developers to deliver product enhancements.

Project vs Product Manager

Conclusion for Project vs Product Manager Comparison

Project vs Product Manager comparison has a meaning that depends on the structure of the organization and the chosen way of business development. Single product-focused organizations give a dense responsibility to the product manager and do not need to use the benefits of a mature project management methodology. Complex organizations most probably demand the advantages of all the above three roles by placing them in the required project and product processes.


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Tayfun Odabas, PMP, PSM, PSPO is an IT Project Manager with more than ten years of working experience in Frankfurt. Furthermore, he participated in delivering large transformation projects that applied in different departments of broad-scale organizations. He also obtained strong Agile process knowledge by supporting and leading 3 Agile teams of 3 different enterprise products as a Scrum Product Owner. Tayfun is also aiming to utilize his strong prioritizing skills and analytical ability to achieve the goals of his company with significant results. When he’s not designing and directing software development projects, he likes to do board sports.