March 23, 2021

Project Manager vs. Product Manager vs. Product Owner

Project Management
BigPicture Team

We’re seeing more and more Product Manager and Product Owner opportunities on the market. The Product-centric roles seem to be more lucrative and future-proof than the Project Manager profession. Interestingly, two variants of the Product Manager role co-exist on the market, and one of them is currently emerging as a byproduct of the agile transformation. Let’s compare the Product Manager – Product Owner – Project Manager trio from a candidate’s and an organization’s standpoints.

Project Manager vs. Product Manager

It used to be believed that Product Managers were limited to the manufacturing sector and that the service sector was in the sole possession of Project Managers. However, it is no longer the case. Since the financial, healthcare, e-commerce, construction, and leisure industries have taken over the “product approach”, also known as product-oriented management, there are significantly more opportunities for product managers. Project managers are now in decline. In figure 2. you can see that being on time, budget, and deliver requirements stands for the project manager’s position, regardless of the name of the job advert.

However, if your success is to be measured in business objectives and outcomes such as revenue, and if your focus is on feature and business value delivery, you are dealing with the Product Manager opening. Again, Product Managers are compatible with both the manufacturing and the service sectors. Please have a look at the table by Mik Kersten, and note the red underlining.

Table 1. Project-Oriented Management vs. Product-Oriented Management.

Traditional Product Manager vs. Agile Product Manager

Classic product management was born in 1931 and is common in the manufacturing sector. These classic Product Managers own vision, marketing, and ROI, but they don’t develop a product. It was not until 2010 that the more modern and more senior variant of the Product Manager role emerged. The one that takes part in developing a product and also often serves on the board of directors. Consequently, such Product Managers are a byproduct of the agile transformation and the scaling agile frameworks.

Further in this article, we will be dealing with the product-development-inclusive Product Manager variant, which was on the rise in the 2020s.

Conclusion and Tips

Product management is a promising career, isn’t it? And if you wish to pursue a successful Product Manager’s career, focus on:

  • Perfecting your technical knowledge
  • Mastering your UX skills; be an aesthete
  • Learning how to communicate with engineers and logical thinkers

To further delve into this subject, I highly recommend reading Second thoughts on Project Managers vs Product Managers.