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September 08, 2023

Product development vs. product management: An overview

Project Management
Agnieszka Sienkiewicz

Creating and releasing a product requires teamwork. And not just within Agile teams, but among all your stakeholders. Because that’s a lot of people, there’s often confusion as to what it means to develop and manage a product. Or how product developers and managers differ in terms of their duties and responsibilities. These two concepts sound similar. But in practice, product development and product management have a much more nuanced relationship than meets the eye.

What is product management?

Product management, at its core, is the “what” and “why” of every product. The main responsibility is to build a product (or service) that customers need (and will want to use). Product management is about discovering what customers want, then turning those findings into a product and bringing it to life.

To get from learning to launching, the product management process must be both holistic and strategic. It’ll impact the entire product lifecycle, starting with the initial idea all the way through delivery and post-release support. The product strategy should be documented and presented in the form of a product roadmap.

Product management should drive innovation and business growth. But also cater to the needs of the customer. Think of it as a domain connecting business, user experience (UX), and technology.

A Venn diagram illustrating the relationship between Product Management and the three related domains: tech, UX, and business.

 

On one hand, the goal of product management is to make sure a product is successfully created and released. On the other hand, you need to ensure that the product meets the needs of potential customers, as well as business goals and objectives.

Now you might be wondering what role a product manager plays in the process.

Who is a Product Manager?

When building a new product, you must balance strategy and implementation. Product Managers create product vision, but they also enable other people to realize it. They bridge customers, designers, developers, marketers, salespeople, and other stakeholders, all the while striving to maximize the product’s potential value.

So how do Product Managers do it? They research the market to find out what users need, then match that need to a larger business objective. Next, they define a product vision and prioritize individual features that would satisfy users’ needs based on a set of success criteria.

A list of responsibilities of a Product Manager.

In short, Product Managers define what the product development teams are expected to create and why it is important. And as multifunctional specialists looking at the big picture, they work across three distinct domains, with various teams and stakeholders, throughout the entire product life cycle.

If a Product Manager has such a broad range of responsibilities, where does product development fit in?

What is product development?

Product development also focuses on a product from conception (idea) to release. But product development is more hands-on: It’s about turning an idea into a shippable product through designing, building, and testing. 

So product development is the process by which you bring the product to life based on the vision of a Product Manager. Think of this domain as the “how” and “when” of the product. That means figuring out how a certain product or feature can be built and when it could be ready for release. It also means improving (or even redesigning) the existing product and its features.

Who is a product developer?

Product developers (also known as product development specialists) are generally responsible for designing and creating new products, as well as maintaining or improving existing ones. Depending on the company, product developers may work alone or as part of a team. They take in the requirements produced by Product Managers and turn them into a product that meets users’ expectations and the company’s business goals.

For example, product development specialists like software engineers would typically write technical specifications, and designers would create wireframes and mockups.

Building a specific product or service calls for different skillsets at different stages. The more complex and advanced the product, the more roles would fall under product development. In essence, a product developer is anyone who turns an idea into a digital or physical product and takes it to market. They use their unique skills and cooperate with other specialists and teams.

Difference between product management and product development

Product management is about the “what,” but product development is more concerned with the “how.” Product management is a very strategic, “big picture” process that results in product vision and roadmap. Through product management, everyone knows what the product is about, the problem it’s supposed to solve, and the direction it’s headed. Product managers also create a go-to-market plan that includes pricing and many other details related to marketing and sales.  

Product managers take a product from A to Z, but they do it without sweating the details of how those steps should be executed.

Product development, on the other hand, is more concerned with how the product will go through all those steps, starting with the idea all the way through release and support. Product developers define the product, design it, create and test prototypes, and launch and market the working product.

Product managers and developers approach their tasks differently. Managers, being strategic-minded, focus on task prioritization and setting goals (what to build first). Developers (the creative ones) create prototypes and build and test them. But because they can’t build the entire product in one go, they break it down into smaller components they can deliver in individual iterations or Sprints.

Now you’ve got a handle on product management vs. product development: What each covers, how these areas differ, and which roles tackle which parts of the product lifecycle.