Product manager vs. project manager — people often confuse these two roles. The words “product” and “project” sound similar; even the role’s abbreviation is identical (“PM”). But they are not the same.
The two roles do often work together, so understanding how they differ is especially important. So let’s break down who does what.
What is a Product Manager?
In a nutshell, a product manager is responsible for the product as a whole. Market research, setting the vision and strategy, and overseeing the execution; the product manager does all that and more. The product manager’s role lasts throughout the product’s life cycle. As long as the business improves the product, the product manager is responsible for it. There is no fixed end date for this role.
A product manager also ensures that the product satisfies customer needs and business objectives. Aligning the organization’s goals with the product’s development is the foundation of this role. As the product owner, they are ultimately responsible for the product’s development and results.
On the management side, a product manager coordinates cross-functional teams to ensure they understand and deliver the required product features.
The main responsibilities of a product manager
We can break down the product manager’s responsibilities into several categories.
Conducting customer and market research
For the product to be valuable, it must satisfy customer needs. To ensure that it does, the product manager gathers market review and survey data in an effort to understand the customer better and find improvement opportunities.
But reviews and surveys also measure satisfaction. Seeing what works well is equally important for product success. As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Keeping tabs on the competition is also essential. Market trends can offer guidance as to which product features users might expect.
Driving the strategy
The product strategy guides the direction of the product. It’s the high-level vision of the product and the plan for its execution, along with the context of supporting company goals.
It’s also where the product manager defines the target audience, desirable features, design direction, and market positioning, among others.
A product manager has to communicate these elements across the organization. Most businesses use a product roadmap for this.
It’s a tool that visualizes the product’s plan, vision, business goals, order of releases, development direction, and desired outcomes, among other things. A product roadmap enables product managers to easily track the progress of initiatives and alignment with strategic objectives.
Creating and maintaining the product roadmap is another responsibility of a product manager, because plans and priorities in the roadmap can change. Market trends, customer needs, and business-wide objectives can impact the roadmap, so it’s essential to keep the roadmap up to date at all times.
Cooperation with Stakeholders
A product manager cooperates with the organization’s executives. Successful product development is impossible without their buy-in. That’s why it’s so important to communicate the product’s vision and objectives to higher-ups and reach an agreement.
Keep in mind that this is an ongoing relationship. Stakeholders must be aware of any roadmap changes as soon as they happen.
Managing the product backlog
Aside from the responsibilities above, a product manager catalogs and prioritizes the upcoming work. Maintaining and communicating changes to the product backlog is one of a product manager’s duties.
The scope of the backlog stems from customer and market research. The product manager breaks down the scope into individual items with goals and deadlines.
And if any roadblocks could affect the delivery of backlog items, a product manager must react accordingly. Problem-solving ability is a must for anyone who wants to succeed in this role.
Measuring product success
Setting the high-level strategy of the product and defining the value proposition is one thing. But what about the effectiveness of product-related initiatives? A product manager oversees that, too.
In this area, the role requires establishing success metrics, tracking them, and implementing corrective measures if results are below expectations.
Product managers rely on data from product and support teams to assess development progress and success. This is only possible through the collaborative effort of multiple teams across the organization.
Frequent evaluation of appropriate metrics is the foundation of product management. Advanced reporting tools that aggregate data from multiple sources help product managers keep track of progress and make necessary adjustments.
What is a Project Manager?
Simply put, project managers oversee the development project from start to finish. Their job begins with turning strategic plans into initiatives (aka projects). A project manager is responsible for the initiative during its entire life cycle. Initiatives have fixed start and end dates, (unlike the product).
Depending on requirements and scope, a project manager can oversee one or multiple teams.
This role is responsible for setting project goals and making sure the team reaches them. The same applies to deadlines and deliverables. If there are any problems that might prevent successful delivery, project managers help solve them.
The main responsibilities of a project manager
The entire project plan rests on the project manager’s shoulders. It includes the preparation of a detailed timeline and the complete project scope. The project manager establishes the necessary resources (like people, tools, and budget) and gets stakeholder approval. Project managers handle all project constraints.
It’s their job to assign the right people to tasks and ensure those people have the resources necessary to complete them.
Many projects contain dependencies between tasks. The project manager identifies and maps out these dependencies.
Stakeholders must agree to any constraints and be in the loop for any project timeline, scope, or cost changes. A project manager needs to drive these conversations. Otherwise, project sponsors will be in the dark (and that’s bad for everyone involved).
The project manager regularly updates stakeholders on the project’s progress. Routine reporting ensures that the stakeholders know what’s happening and whether the project requires additional resources or changes to the timeline.
Project teams rely on the project manager’s input and communication. Conveying tasks, responsibilities, and deadlines to the right people keeps the project going. When project managers work with the teams and stay on top of communication, everyone wins.
Each project has a finite amount of resources. The project manager must plan, allocate, and control their use to achieve project success efficiently.
Resource management consists of the following processes:
- Analysis: determining what resources are needed for the project to succeed
- Planning: identifying and organizing the necessary resources
- Scheduling: ensuring the availability of resources when they are needed
- Allocation: assigning the resources to the appropriate people or tasks
- Tracking: monitoring the performance and use of resources
Every project has potential risks. Project managers are responsible for identifying any risks that could derail the project. But knowing is only step one.
In addition to having a record of threats to the project (in a list or a risk matrix, for example), project managers look for ways to mitigate them. At this stage, smart project managers conduct a risk assessment and monitor developments that could jeopardize the project’s completion.
Managing projects is a continuous process. When the initiative is in progress, a project manager supervises the delivery of tasks and deliverables.
Tracking progress and ensuring the development team meets deadlines is crucial for the project’s success. And if things go wrong, project managers work with the teams involved to resolve issues before it’s too late.
How product managers and project managers overlap
These two roles manage different domains, but their work does overlap in some areas. For example, both managers align work with strategy. Whether it’s a product roadmap or a project scope, they must be in line with business objectives.
The product manager and project manager are also both involved in the prioritization of work. While the former sets priorities by refining the backlog, the latter makes sure that the right tasks and deliverables get done. So, they work together to turn the product roadmap into actual results.
And then there are the stakeholders. Whether you’re a product or project manager, communication with stakeholders is an important part of your job.
The product manager needs to communicate with the customer or client, while the project manager must clearly communicate expectations to team members. Both managers must convey the right information to their team(s).
Aside from common responsibilities or actions, these roles also share some desirable skills, chief among them leadership, organization, and problem-solving.
Product manager vs. project manager – summary
As you can see, though there are similarities between the two, product and project managers focus on different areas. And their day-to-day work looks completely different. We’ve compiled a list of the main differences between these roles in a handy cheat sheet.
Product management and project management software
If the roles are different, don’t they require separate tools? Not necessarily. Some Jira apps combine product and project management capabilities. Appfire’s BigPicture is one of them. As a result, it makes life easier for both product and project managers.
BigPicture for product management
Appfire’s product and project portfolio management software enables you to oversee the product and make data-based decisions.
You can create a detailed product roadmap, define objectives for your teams, and track their progress. The corresponding Jira project data will flow seamlessly into your product command center. Gather and aggregate data from various projects to oversee their completion in a high-level view.
Plus, you have a space for your product backlog and reporting capabilities. All of that makes BigPicture an all-encompassing product management tool.
BigPicture for project management
You can use BigPicture as a single source of truth for all your projects in the organization. In fact, you can manage programs and complex portfolios, too.
That means you can standardize your data across the entire business. It streamlines aligning initiatives and communication, especially in large companies.
Whether you manage Classic, Agile, or Hybrid projects, BigPicture gives you the tools you need to do your best work. Use it for planning, prioritizing, progress tracking, resource management, reporting, and more.
Thanks to the two-way synchronization with Jira, the data exchange is instant. That saves you from miscommunication or estimation issues down the road.
Check out the full power of our PPM powerhouse during a 30-day free trial with no strings attached.