Product Manager vs. Project Manager: Differences and Similarities

The titles of product manager and project manager may sound similar, but these two roles have distinct responsibilities. Product managers oversee the development of the items and services a company offers. Project managers, however, supervise sets of tasks to achieve specific outcomes.

By understanding the differences between project managers and product managers, leaders can clearly define core leadership positions on their teams and find qualified candidates for each role.

What Is a Product Manager vs. a Project Manager?

Product managers and project managers both have leadership roles that help guide important processes in the workplace, but they’re in charge of different types of work.

Product managers focus on creating, managing, and maintaining a company’s offerings or products. Products can include items, programs, and services.

Project managers aim to achieve defined objectives, guiding the completion of certain tasks and assignments. For example, a product manager may supervise the creation, launch, and maintenance of a company’s app, while a project manager may lead the hands-on development of specific app features.

By definition, projects are meant to be completed on a specific timeline, so project managers often work on a series of different projects. Once they complete a project, they work on new assignments.

Product managers may work with a single product long-term, finding ways to add new features, make improvements, and implement user feedback. Product managers also focus more on developing the overarching strategy for their products, while project managers find practical ways to achieve objectives and goals.

Product Manager Deep Dive

Let’s take a closer look at what product managers do, answering critical questions like:

  • What are a product manager’s primary duties and responsibilities?
  • What qualifications do product managers need?
  • What are the best skills for product managers to have?
  • Do product managers need a formal degree or any professional certifications?

Product Manager Duties and Responsibilities

Product managers have a key role in developing products and services. They’re responsible for the overall vision for their company’s products and ensure that those products align with the company’s mission and goals.

The scope of a product manager’s job can vary, with some product managers focusing exclusively on strategy and others completing hands-on tasks like product design or testing. Here are some of the main responsibilities for product managers:

  1. Establishing metrics for success: Product managers determine the key performance indicators for their team members and the performance of their product as a whole.
  2. Overseeing market research: They identify the need for different types of market and competitor research to ensure they develop an in-demand, competitive product.
  3. Gathering consumer feedback: Product managers compile and analyze feedback from consumers about the product’s quality, price point, and features.
  4. Building product strategy: Developing the product roadmap for a release is one of a product manager’s key roles. They outline their vision for the product’s development and establish a high-level plan for the product’s development.
  5. Coordinating project launches and updates: Product managers collaborate with project managers, product designers, and other teams to bring products to market.

Product Manager Qualifications

Product managers are often already experienced in product design, product development, or another type of business operations role. Because they manage the big picture of the product lifecycle, they need experience with strategic planning and an understanding of the product development process.

Skills for Product Managers

Product managers leverage both soft and technical skills to design and implement their product roadmaps. Skills can vary depending on the type of products being created. For example, a product manager overseeing a software release may require programming skills. Some of the general skills to look out for in product management candidates include:

  • Market research
  • Strategic thinking
  • Prototyping
  • Product testing
  • Data analysis
  • Leadership
  • Client management

These skills help product managers set the specifications for their products and ensure that each aspect of product development meets those requirements.

Education Requirements for Product Managers

Product managers typically have degrees in business, marketing, or related subjects. Product managers can also earn certifications to verify their knowledge of the product lifecycle. One of the most prominent certification options is the Certified Product Manager program from the Association of International Product Marketing and Management (AIPMM).

Project Manager Deep Dive

Let’s look at what project managers do in more depth:

  • What are a project manager’s duties and responsibilities?
  • What qualifications do project managers need?
  • What are the best skills for project managers?
  • Do project managers need any professional certifications?

Project Manager Duties and Responsibilities

Project managers can work on projects with different scopes, budgets, and requirements. They can manage projects ranging from building a new facility to updating a team’s filing system. Project management involves bringing an idea to life and coordinating the practical, day-to-day activities associated with its implementation. Duties may include:

  • Creating project timelines and deadlines
  • Allocating resources
  • Establishing processes and assigning roles
  • Tracking progress
  • Managing changes and updates
  • Leading meetings

Project managers can collaborate with product managers to bring their product ideas to life. For example, a product manager may plan to launch a new software update. The project manager would ensure the update was released on time and according to the product manager’s specifications.

Project Manager Qualifications

Project managers are often mid-career professionals, but there are also senior project managers who oversee large initiatives and some entry-level project managers who oversee smaller projects. They may have experience with project administration or business administration.

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Skills for Project Managers

Project managers apply similar strategies and methodologies to different types of projects. Their skillset is primarily focused on leadership and management. Top skills for this role include:

  1. Budgeting: Project managers determine how to allocate resources to achieve a goal within a certain budget.
  2. Time management: Setting deadlines and keeping track of their team’s progress helps project managers achieve their goals on time.
  3. Change management: Project managers determine how to reallocate time and resources when unexpected roadblocks occur.
  4. Agile and Scrum methodologies: Understanding popular project management techniques like Agile and Scrum can help project managers build efficient systems.

Project managers may also have industry-specific knowledge from leading technical projects in different niches. Project managers typically require proficiency in different workflow and project management tools, such as Monday, Jira, and Trello. By looking for a candidate with project management skills, you can enhance productivity and build more cohesive teams.

Education Requirements for Project Managers

Although there are no universal education requirements, project managers typically have a degree in business or a similar field. The Project Management Institute also offers several project management certification programs that teach and evaluate specific methodologies:

  • Project Management Professional
  • Certified Associate in Project Management
  • Program Management Professional

RELATED: 30+ Great Project Manager Interview Questions

Discovering Qualified Product and Project Managers for Your Team

Defining project management and product management roles can help you build a strong leadership team that drives business development. Qualified product managers and project managers who understand the scope of their roles drive teamwork, boost efficiency, and facilitate collaboration for their product or project teams.

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