Product Management and Project Management are two crucial areas of every organization. However, confusions often arise regarding the positions of Product Manager (PM) and Project Manager (also called PM). Apparently, the job profiles of both the managers are similar, yet there is a significant distinction in their actual tasks and responsibilities. Yet fresh management graduates usually find it difficult to decide between these job posts. Given below is a complete overview of the major difference between Product and Project Managers relative to their job tasks, titles, skills, and salary prospects.

Table of Contents

  1. Product Manager Vs Project Manager: Basic Difference
  2. Product Manager Vs Project Manager: Which is Better?
  3. Product Manager Vs Project Manager: Key Differences in Job Profiles
  4. Job Titles and Hierarchy
  5. Average Salary
  6. Skills Required
  7. Challenges Faced

1. Product Manager Vs Project Manager: Basic Difference

The key difference between Product Manager and Project Manager lies in the nature of the entities they manage and supervise. While a Product Manager oversees and directs the development of products, a Project Manager handles the implementation of a project or plan from its start to its completion.

Product vs Project:

Product refers to any physical thing, service, or software application that is required to meet market demands and create value for the customers. It is a permanent entity that follows a lifecycle comprising 4-5 standard phases. These phases relate to its conception and introduction, growth and management, evolution, and decline. Product development and evolution is a continuous process with no particular timeframe. The task of a Product Manager is to make sure that the quality of the product is satisfactory and stands up to the expectations of customers.

However, a project is a set of initiatives and activities undertaken to fulfill certain goals. These plans may include the creation or improvement of a product or service. A project usually goes through specific stages, namely Initiation/Launch, Planning, Execution, Monitoring, and Termination. Unlike a product, a project is a one-time temporary venture that has a fixed timeline. The duty of a Project Manager is to ensure that the project is accomplished within the established scope, budget, and timeframe.

2. Product Manager Vs Project Manager: Which is Better?

The roles of both the Product Manager and the Project Manager are considered valuable in an organization. But which profile works better for you depends upon your interests, preferences, and skills. Project management generally involves a wider analytical perspective, whereas product management dwells on the core problem-solving abilities. Although the job description of the Product Manager and the Project Manager is quite separately defined, some of their duties may overlap as per the organizational structure. On several occasions, both the managers tackle activity-based details of a product or service development. In other words, the Project Manager may have to work with a tactical approach apart from a strategic one.

Product-oriented vs. Project-oriented Set-up:

In a company that builds ever-evolving products and services, there are valuable opportunities for a product manager. Here, the manager will need to optimize every stage of product development and explore ways to enhance the product features and demand throughout the lifecycle. Alternatively, if a company formulates products with minimal room for modifications, the scope of a product manager’s job is limited. In this case, the product life cycles are fairly time-bound, and hence, the product-related tasks are sometimes given to the Project Manager only.

Further, if a majority of the company’s projects are linked to one product, the tasks can be effectively led by a Project Manager. However, if the timeline and budget of a project hold lesser importance, the same duties can be shouldered by a Product Manager alone.

Therefore, it is better to opt for a profile that suits the type of organization you wish to work for.

3. Product Manager Vs Project Manager: Key Differences in Job Profiles

Product management is a functional area within an organization that encompasses planning, testing, production, pricing, forecasting, and promotion of product/s at all stages of its lifecycle. On the other hand, project management is a complete process of effectuating a series of techniques, knowledge, skills, and experience to attain the agreed objectives within a definite budget and time span. Correspondingly, there is an adequate disparity between the professional characteristics of the Product Manager and the Project Manager. Glance through the main differences between the two:

PM Roles and Responsibilities

While a Product Manager focuses on the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of a product, a Project Manager is concerned with the ‘how,’ ‘when,’ ‘who,’ and ‘where’ of a project, Project Managers typically work with a broader team compared to the Product Managers. Below is an illustration of the roles and responsibilities of both the managers:

Product Managers:

Often known as the CEOs of the products, Product Managers are responsible for setting and giving a direction to the product development and evaluation. This kind of data is referred to as a product roadmap, which also includes a product vision, i.e., the long-term goal for the product. The ultimate purpose of the Product Managers is to maximize the product’s value in alignment with the customer demand as well as business goals. They carry out the following tasks in an organization:

· Researching & exploring the user/customer needs & requirements

· Identifying opportunities & setting a product vision

· Communicating with the stakeholders

· Developing a product roadmap

· Defining detailed steps for the product team

· Supervising the quality & cost of the product

· Keeping track of the product’s progress

· Coordinating with the sales & marketing team for product improvements.

Project Managers:

The roles & responsibilities of Project Managers revolve around securing the timely delivery of decided goals. These managers use several software tools to set and track the project schedule. They perform the following duties:

· Converting strategic plans into series of actionable tasks

· Allocating resources for the project

· Prioritizing & scheduling tasks

· Determining & setting project deadline

· Minimizing risks in the project execution

· Overseeing design & development teams, in case of new product development or modification

· Monitoring the execution of tasks

· Ensuring the timely completion of tasks

· Managing the scope of the project

· Communicating the project advancement to the stakeholders at various stages.

4. Job Titles and Hierarchy

Even though the exact job titles of Product Manager and Project Manager vary as per the industry, these are more or less equivalent to certain standard titles. The following table shows the list of job titles in the ascending order of hierarchy:

Product ManagerProject Manager
· Associate Product Manager·       Product Manager·    
Senior Product Manager·       Product Director·      
VP/Head of Product·      
Chief Product Officer 
·  Project Coordinator/ Scheduler·     Assistant Project Manager·       Project Manager·      
Senior Project Manager·      
Project Director·      
VP of Project Management

Entry-Level Positions:

At entry-level, the potential Product Managers and Project Managers are hired as Associate/Junior Product Manager and Project Coordinator/Scheduler, respectively. Employees at these positions usually receive training from the senior managers, generate reports, and work as assistants to the management team.

Senior-Level Positions:

The senior professionals like a Product Manager and senior Product Manager have similar job descriptions but differ in their years of experience. Both operate in an independent manner and lead the product development team. In some organizations, the senior Product Managers may have an additional task of mentoring their juniors.

In the project management team, a Project Manager runs one project at a time, while a senior Project Manager is responsible for multiple projects at the same time. Thus, the latter leads a bigger team in comparison to the former.

Top-Level Positions:

The higher-level positions in a product management team are that of VP of Product and Product Director. Both these profiles are nearly the same in terms of job responsibilities. They assume a leadership role in the product team and are said to own the relevant product. However, they are not involved in the hands-on activities of product development or design. But in large organizations, the senior-post profile belongs to the Chief Product Officer (CPO). A CPO is a person behind the overall product vision and strategy.

Likewise, the topmost experts in the project management team are the Project Director and VP of the Project. They make the core decisions and define the direction of the project management team.

The product and Project Managers are required across all types of sectors like IT, Law, Construction, Manufacturing, Health Insurance, Telecommunications, etc. Besides, with further advancements in industries, new job titles keep emerging in both the management domains.

5. Average Salary

The profile of a Product Manager is relatively more lucrative than that of a Project Manager. The accurate salary figures depend upon the organization and industry. Below is a glimpse of the average salary range at various levels of product and project management:

Level of ExperienceProduct Manager Average SalaryProject Managers Average Salary
< 1 year (entry-level)Rs. 7-10 lpaRs. 4-5 lpa
5-9 years (mid-level)Rs. 15-17 lpaRs. 10-13 lpa
10-20 years (senior-level)Rs. 20-30 lpaRs. 17-22 lpa

6. Skills Required

Every job entails a specific set of skills and capabilities. Likewise, the skills required for product management and project management slightly differ in nature. Below is a overview of the important qualities expected in either manager:

Product Management SkillsProject Management Skills
·   Far-sightedness·
 Detail-Orientation·
Strategic Thinking·
Analytical Outlook·
Critical Thinking·
Negotiation Abilities
·   Planning Efficiency·
 Adaptability·
Problem-Solving Abilities·
Time Management Skills·
Leadership Skills·
Organizing Capabilities

Apart from the above-listed skills, both the managers need to be well-knowledgeable of their functional areas as well as the industry. Besides, the following skills are required for both professions:

Common Skillset:

· Technical Skills

· Communication & Interpersonal Skills

· Resourcefulness

· Oratory Skills

· Group Skills

7. Challenges Faced

The sphere of management never comes without some challenges and hurdles in its way. Higher the job position, more are the challenges faced by product and Project Managers. Below is a demonstration of the problematic areas in either fields of management:

Product ManagerProject Manager
· Engineering Dependencies·
Rapid Innovation Cycle·
Highly Competitive Market·   Flexible Market Dynamics· Improper Market Feedback
·Unrealistic Deadlines·
Budgeting Issues·
Inadequate Risk management· Limited Stakeholder Engagement·
Unpredictable Project Scope

Since the process of product development heavily relies on the efficiencies of the engineering team, a Product Manager has to constantly communicate with them to meet the product goals. This results in a high degree of engineering dependencies, especially in case of ever-changing market conditions. Besides, some products have rapid innovation cycles either due to the nature of the product or organization.

Similarly, a Project Manager sometimes tackles projects with unpredictable scope due to the complex relationships among different projects or the organizational structure. At the same time, the manager is required to fulfil the expectations of stakeholders, which may pose a challenge in case of tight constraints or limited communication.

In addition, there are common troubles that both the managers may encounter due to loopholes in the organizational structure. These are listed below:

Common Challenges:

· Lack of accountability channels

· Absence of Proactiveness

· Ineffective management control

· Lack of clarity in goals

· Poor evaluation criteria

· Deficient resources

· Lack of contingency plans

· Unskilled and inexperienced team

· Communication gap within the teams

· Conflict between short-term and long-term project/product goals

· Huge variations in opinions of team members

· Absence of alignment and focus

Conclusion

Although there are several differences in many aspects of product and project management, yet both the teams work in collaboration with each other. It is generally observed that their alliance is strong in high-performance workplaces. Since the organizational projects often involve one or more products, the Product Managers and Project Managers work collectively to achieve the overall business objectives. Lastly, the professionals of both fields make a valuable contribution to the ultimate success of the organization.

To learn more about Product Management and other modern disciplines, check out the courses on our website.

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