May 20, 2022
Project Manager vs Product Manager
Although they seem similar at first glance, product managers are very different from project managers: a product manager oversees a product's vision and success from beginning to end, while a project manager coordinates projects so they come in on time and on budget. In other words, product managers are "strategic thinkers" while project managers "execute" other people's visions.
In this Article
According to Mark Lines, product development and project delivery expert and vice president of disciplined agile at Project Management Institute (PMI), time is another important distinction between the roles.
"Project managers are common for leading projects with a finite beginning and expected end date, while product managers are responsible for leading product teams who create and evolve products over time and without an expected end date," he explains.
While the roles have different functions, both can be found in just about every industry. Since every organization has projects, project management is used in all fields. Likewise, most organizations have products and thus require product managers to oversee organizational initiatives. In this way, both roles are vital for the success of organizations.
Type of Work You'll Do
Product managers and project managers have some professional overlap, yet their day-to-day tasks, goals, and objectives vary greatly.
Job Goals and Objectives
Understanding the distinct goals of project managers and product managers is one way to gain an understanding of the jobs' differences.
|Project Management Goals||Product Management Goals|
|Maintaining stakeholder alignment. Project managers must ensure that as key goalposts like timeline and budget are met, organizations along with their stakeholders are aware of and satisfied with the results.||Building the right products. Organizations will always have more ideas for products than can possibly be funded. Product management teams need to prioritize potential product ideas so they can focus on ones that will provide the most value to the organization.|
|Accurate record keeping and accounting. Project managers keep track of schedules and tasks with the help of project management software. They use these tools to stay organized and to learn from similar past projects.||Ensuring customers use the product. Part of product management is marketing to potential end users and customers. If these individuals are unaware of the available functionality of a product or service, they will be unlikely to buy or use it.|
|Increasing productivity. Through ongoing collaboration and communication with stakeholders, individuals on the team, and other intersecting organizational leadership teams, project managers keep projects on task to successfully complete projects within the original timeframe and budget.||Using the right product features at the right time. Many delivery teams working in parallel inevitably mean there will be functional dependencies between the solutions and products. Product managers must consider and prioritize these functional dependencies so the right functionality is available when needed.|
Where You'll Work
Product managers are positioned uniquely at the intersection of technology and business, communicating strategic vision and translating business needs to engineering teams. They work on small and large teams across almost every industry, frequently working with physical and digital products or services such as cars, household cleaners, apps, or innovative scheduling software.
Thanks to the breadth of skills and duties in project management, those in the role can work almost anywhere and for any size company, particularly organizations with upper management and many teams. In these companies, project managers lead teams to execute project goals as varied as launching a new toy, creating a new allergy-free cereal, or conducting a longitudinal healthcare study.
What Degree Does Each Job Require?
Since product managers and project managers work in all types of industries, the degree requirements vary. Also, individual organizations have their own hiring requirements. Some companies may just look for experience or an associate degree if they're hiring for an entry-level position, while others may require a master's; especially if the job is a leadership or management position.
Product managers may be more employable with some marketing or business education, while project managers may benefit from at least a bachelor's level of education and additional project management training and professional experience. Often project managers start on a team in the field they desire to work in and after gaining the field experience and industry knowledge, move into positions of management.
Additionally, Lines explains that a product owner or product manager is expected to be a domain expert in the product they oversee, so specific schooling may be appropriate within a particular industry.
"If you are a product owner for a line of (pharmaceuticals), it may be helpful to have a medical or chemistry degree," he says.
What Job Pays More?
The BLS reports that the median annual wage for project managers is $77,420. The BLS doesn’t specifically track salaries of product managers, but it is included under the "Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers" job category, which lists a median pay of $141,490.
"Pay for either roles depends on the size and complexity of the project or product initiative," says Lines. "However, there is data to support that those who have certifications such as the Project Management Professional or an advanced agile certification such as those from Disciplined Agile are paid higher than those who do not have these accreditations."
Which Job is Best for My Skillset?
To decide which role best suits your unique skillset, interests, and personality, consider the soft skills, technical knowledge, and day-to-day tasks involved in project management and product management.
Organization, communication, leadership, and time management skills will benefit either position.
|Common Product Manager Skills and Tasks||Common Project Manager Skills and Tasks|
|Creating and maintaining a product roadmap||Creating project timelines|
|Research knowledge||Budgeting knowledge|
|Decision-making skills||Stakeholder alignment skills|
|Communicating strategic vision to stakeholders||Communicating progress to stakeholders|
|Market assessment skills||Project management and administration tool familiarity|
|Price modeling||Allocating project resources|
|Data analysis and UX knowledge||Team building|