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May 20, 2022

Project Manager vs Product Manager

erin draper

Written and reported by:

Erin Baldwin Draper

Contributing Writer

top down view of five people planning project at table
team collaborating on project

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.

Project Manager Job Description

Project managers work to organize project tasks and goals into actionable items for teams to perform. This role relies heavily on communication and collaboration within and across teams. Project Managers must keep stakeholders and team members abreast of project updates, budget, and other organizational tasks to stay on schedule. Project managers must also be mindful of team dynamics, relying on team building, morale boosting, and other motivational skills to increase intrinsic motivation for meeting project goals.

Project managers work to organize project tasks and goals into actionable items for teams to perform.

Day-to-day, project managers might oversee a large-scale construction project or roll out a new and improved rechargeable battery for an established brand. Through the use of project management tools and software, project managers will track every moving piece related to a project, including budget, timeline, and ongoing communication with teams and stakeholders. Common tools include Gantt, Asana, Work Breakdown Structure, project baseline, and others, which help with budgeting, estimating the amount of time to complete a project, resource allocation, quality management, risk management, collaboration, and administration.

Product Manager Job Description

Product managers, on the other hand, think through the big picture and see a product's vision through to the end. Along with data and analytics--including product ideas, market research, pricing, and success metrics--product managers oversee product objectives and priorities, product design, development, testing, and product release.

Product managers think through the big picture and see a product's vision through to the end.

Day-to-day, a product manager might work collaboratively with stakeholders and marketing teams to complete market research on a new organizational initiative. They might work with engineering and design teams to ensure a new product is aligned with industry standards and trends. Then the product manager might test the product, learn about customer needs, and create key metrics related to the success of the product compared to similar products on the market.

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 GoalsProduct 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.

Do Project Managers and Product Manager Work Together?

Project managers and product managers often intersect in the workplace. For instance, a large and established publisher might hire a product manager to oversee the launch of a website for their new imprint. The publisher might also hire a project manager to oversee the successful launch of a new author and her latest book, including the ins and outs of scheduling a book tour, staying on budget, and collaborating with the marketing team.

Lines says product management approaches using collaboration between product management and product management teams are increasingly used in information technology departments of all types of organizations as well. 

"This movement is known as 'from project to products'," he says. "It is well known that teams that stay together long term improve their efficiency over time as they bond and learn the most effective ways of working and collaborating together."

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.

Product Management Certification

Product management certifications and their courses vary greatly. Most are offered both in-person and online and help build skills such as analyzing product success metrics, customer needs assessment, product lifecycle development, technical product development skills, and product roadmap use. The Association of International Product Marketing and Management (AIPMM) offers four certifications: Certified Product Manager (CPM), Certified Digital Product Manager (CDPM), Certified Product Marketing Manager (CPMM), and Agile Certified Product Manager and Product Owner (ACPMPO).

The popular CPM offers live online, self-study, and in-person coursework covering a comprehensive understanding of product lifecycle, customer needs, business, and stakeholder considerations.

Project Management Certification

Project management certification is overseen by the Project Management Institute and includes several well-known certifications. Perhaps the most popular is the Project Management Professional (PMP), which uses predictive, agile, and hybrid approaches to build leadership experience and expertise. Prerequisites include a four-year degree, 36 months experience leading projects, and 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM certification, or high school diploma or associates degree, 60 months leading projects, and 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM certification.

What Job Pays More?

The BLS reports that the median annual wage for project managers is $94,500. The BLS doesn’t specifically track salaries of product managers, but it is included under the Marketing Managers job category, which lists a median pay of $135,030.

"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."

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 TasksCommon Project Manager Skills and Tasks
"Strategic Thinker""Doer"
Creating and maintaining a product roadmapCreating project timelines
Research knowledgeBudgeting knowledge
Business knowledgeCollaboration
Decision-making skillsStakeholder alignment skills
Communicating strategic vision to stakeholdersCommunicating progress to stakeholders
Market assessment skillsProject management and administration tool familiarity
Price modelingAllocating project resources
Data analysis and UX knowledgeTeam building

mark lines

With professional insights from:

Mark Lines

Vice-President of Disciplined Agile, Project Management Institute (PMI)

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