Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Product Management Vs. Project Management

What is the difference between a Project Manager and a Product Manager?”
This is precisely the question people ask when I say that I transitioned my career from Project Management to Product Management. In general, most people and organizations understand the role of a project manager imputing the position being popular across the organizations for long.  However the product manager’s role varies widely from one industry to another.  The role also varies by the size of an organization.

Here is my take on the two roles and the difference between them:
Product Managers are expected to identify customer needs, envision and design the product that creates value for the customers, take it to the market and generate revenue for the organization. They are focused on end-to-end life cycle of an identified value-proposition.Whereas, the Project Managers have a narrower scope and engagements span, responsible for the successful delivery of a project – one time endeavor with a scope, deadline, budget and other constraints. They ensure quality and timely delivery of the outcome using a specific set of resources.

Frameworks comparison for Product Management and Project Management:

To understand better the differences between the two roles, we should first understand the framework that governs the product life-cycle management:
Project Management Stages
Project Management Life-cycle

As per PMI (project Management Institute), every project life cycle has 5 stages: Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring and Control and Closing and nine knowledge areas required for effectively managing any project: Integrate, Scope, Time, Cost, Quality, HR, Communicate, Risk and Procure.

Product Management Stages
Product Management Life-cycle

On the other hand, a product life cycle has seven different stages: Ideation, Planning, Development, Qualify, Launch, and Deliver and eventually Retire and requires expertise in knowledge areas of Organization, Market, Business, Customer and Product.

The two frameworks are not independent and co-exist in a product life cycle. Each phase of product management has one full life-cycle of project management. An example is that every planning stage of a product has 5 stages of project management, i.e. initiating to planning to executing to monitoring to closing. Similarly, the launch phase of product also has 5 project stages, i.e. initiate, plan execute, monitor and close.

Product Management and Project Management co-existence

A tabularized comparison between key deliverables for Product Managers and Project Managers here:
Project Management
Product Management
Project Knowledge Base and Portfolio Analysis
Product Knowledge Base and Portfolio Analysis
Project Charter and Management Plan
Market Research and Competitive Analysis
Designing Work Breakdown Structure
Product Business Case (usually P&L statement)
Earned Value Analysis
Market Strategy Plan
Feasibility Study
Identifying and documenting Market Requirements and Product Requirements
Communications Plan
Product Roadmap
Procurement Plan
Technology Roadmap
Quality Assurance Plan
Beta Plan
Risk Analysis and Mitigation
Launch Plan
Status Summary and Reporting
Go-to-market Strategy
Project Debriefing
End of Life Plan

Similarities and common challenges:
They manage end-to-end life cycle of their deliverable. They co-exist and collaborate to drive strategic initiatives, guide key activities and decisions, and significantly impact over P&L statement. Both the jobs lack direct authority to carry out responsibilities; they have little influence over cross-functional teams. Product Managers guide key decisions to maximize value and create new streams and Project managers ensure maximize quality and minimize risk.

One of the key challenges of the roles is that they can be at odds with each other at times. When a product manager wants to add a lot of features to meet identified customer needs, the project manager may want to keep the scope as small as possible so that the project is delivered on time and under budget. An appropriate way to resolve the conflict is to understand each other’s requirements and constraints, making a perfect balance between meaningful deliverable and restraints. Good project managers know that the true success of a project is timely delivery meeting budget and other constraints ensuring that it meets the defined goals and objectives. Good product managers know that all the features in the world will not matter if the project is continually delayed and never makes it to market or if it is too over budget to be completed.

Few important points to keep in mind are:
  1. Product Management and Project Management roles co-exist and cannot work in isolation.
  2. Skills, expertise and traits required to efficiently carry out the two tasks are very different from each other.
  3. Good product managers spend as much time with the team as project managers.
  4. The less time product managers spend on project management, the more time they will be able to create a value for their customers.


  1. Nice article--I've taken this question more than once...

  2. Great taxonomies to compare the two roles. While PMI has gained fierce popularity, there is not yet a similar institute for Product Management. Pragmatic Marketing is the closest to defining the discipline of Product Management. In my experience as a product manager, it's best to have the project manager working for you, or as close to your right-hand-(wo)man as possible.

  3. Awesome! This article is very good for newbie product managers to understand the difference. Thanks for the great article.