Product manager vs. project manager – different roles in IT projects


Product manager vs. project manager – different roles in IT projects

The leaders in IT projects may be, among others, project manager or product manager. How do these two roles differ? We explain it in this article.

The activity of most IT companies is based on a project model. Projects can be developed individually, but usually, it's a teamwork. IT project management involves a series of specific operations that require specialised roles. The leaders in such projects may be, among others, project manager or product manager. How do these two roles differ? We explain it in this article.

IT project management

Project management is a set of activities aimed at achieving a given objective within the set time, budget and in line with expectations. Project management helps teams organise, track progress and complete tasks.

IT project management differs slightly from traditional project management because of the specificity of the industry and its products. Software projects have their own life cycle, including developing, testing, and updating. The work doesn't end after implementation – there is the support phase, which lasts as long as the product lives.

Each project requires an appropriate methodology to organise the software development process. Such methodology defines a set of rules, guidelines, tools, communication channels, etc. You can read more about IT project management methods here: 

Who is responsible for managing in IT projects? 

People responsible for managing IT project may be project manager and/or product manager. Their roles appear similar, but each involves different responsibilities. Simply put: the project manager deals with project management, while the product manager – product management

But there is more. Project manager and product manager roles can intersect and complement each other at various management stages. Therefore, to ensure the success of an IT project, it is essential to define both roles precisely. So first, take a look at the differences between project and product. 

Project vs. product

A project is a task or a set of tasks necessary to achieve a specific goal. A project should have its desired result and end product defined. The end goal can be varied – from website design through building an IT system to an internal company procedure. Usually, it is limited in time and budget. 

A product is a good that meets the needs of a specific target group. It is created for sale to solve a customer's needs. Anything, from software to service, can be a product. Each product goes through the product life cycle, from development, through market testing and ultimately to release.

Project vs. product – differences

Unlike a product, a project has a fixed beginning and end. As a product evolves over time, several projects can be undertaken to improve a given product. Therefore, the project may concern the implementation of one specific fragment of the product. But it can also be part of a venture that has a completely different goal than creating a product.

PROJECT manager role

A project manager supervises and tracks activities and progress related to the implementation of a project. Their role includes coordinating, collaborating, communicating, and managing complex project dependencies and team resources. This specialist is also a point of contact for a client. 

Project manager’s responsibilities:

  • managing the project: planning, monitoring, execution, quality and implementation,
  • ensuring that strategic objectives are possible to achieve,
  • taking responsibility for achieving the project goals,
  • selecting a team for a given project and organising its work,
  • establishing the principles of cooperation, e.g., the frequency of team meetings, the method of creating documentation, information flow, and the form of reporting,
  • managing processes and organising priorities to increase efficiency and create organisational transparency,
  • watching over capacity planning and effective use of team resources,
  • managing the flow of information between the client and the project team,
  • managing costs to define what is in and out of the project budget,
  • completing project tasks on time and in line with the budget.

Project manager’s competences:

  • software methodology (which and how to implement); 
  • project and time management; 
  • posting and multitasking; 
  • strategic thinking (influencing the design and business goals of the project); 
  • excellent organisation and communication skills; 
  • cooperation with stakeholders, product teams, marketing, IT and sales. 

PRODUCT manager role

A product manager focuses on creating new products and introducing them to the market. This professional role requires knowledge of the market and a broad perspective to create a coherent product vision that will satisfy stakeholders and customers.

Product manager constructs a product roadmap – an essential tool for planning the development and modification of an already finished product. It includes various stages of work and the time taken to complete them, an inventory of all available product features and the timing to their introduction into the various models and relevant markets.

Product manager’s responsibilities:

  • analysing market trends and competitors' activities,
  • creating a roadmap for a new product,
  • supervising the life cycle of the product,
  • defining technology and business goals,
  • setting priorities for products placed on the market,
  • managing and motivating a product team, 
  • managing the product backlog.

Product manager should know:

  • Why and for whom is the product created? 
  • Does this product solve the user’s problem, and in what way? 
  • Is there a gap in the market for the product? 
  • What is the product better than the competition? 
  • Are the assumptions about the product verified?

Product manager’s competences:

  • strategic thinking; 
  • improving the product vision; 
  • market research techniques; 
  • product marketing; 
  • supporting the client and meeting his needs; 
  • improvement of the team and processes; 
  • supervising the schedule.

Product manager vs. project manager – role differences

Both product manager and project manager conduct team meetings and assign tasks for team members, engage with stakeholders, and manage the workflow. They both take care of producing and providing their customers with the best result with the help of their tools. Their roles require excellent communication and organisational skills, as well as knowledge of the respective market. And what are the differences?

  • A product manager focuses on the specific creation and development of a single product; in contrast, a project manager leads the entire life cycle of the team and project – from development to execution and delivery. 
  • A product manager ensures that a new product or new product features will meet customer needs and meet business goals; in turn, a project manager focuses on the implementation of the project according to specific methods through appropriate coordination, management and supervision. 
  • A product manager drives product development, while a project manager oversees logistics and the implementation of these development plans. 
  • A product manager bases daily tasks on the success of one specific product, while a project manager cannot prioritise one product over the rest of the specialist duties. 
  • As opposed to a product manager, a project manager has to manage the budget, overall welfare and performance of his team, and other non-product-related tasks. 
  • A product manager will move away from the product once they finish their role in the project; a product manager has an extended focus on one product – from creation to delivery to continuous maintenance. 

Product owner – a unique role in agile projects 

To better understand the overall management process, it may be valuable to compare their roles to the role of a product owner. Generalising, the product owner is a project manager responsible for delegating the prouduct team to the scrum master and managing the product's environment.

Recently, the product owner has become an indispensable part of an agile design team. This specialist is responsible for defining the vision of the product and its scope, as well as prioritising the team's backlog.They act as an internal customer expert for development teams, determining what the ideal customer experience should be based on a deep understanding of their needs. Product owner sometimes enters into several roles – business strategist, analyst, liaison with stakeholders, but also a product designer and project manager.

Project manager vs. product manager vs. product owner

  • While a product manager sets a product vision and strategy and leads the multifunctional product team for marketing and sales, a product owner takes a more technical approach to the overall project. They support developers by prioritising the product backlog, gathering requirements, and creating user stories.
  • A product owner can create a product roadmap, although when there is a product manager in the project, the latter usually sets it up. However, the two should work closely to ensure their priorities align. 
  • The role of a product owner sometimes coincides with the role of a project manager. However, the former is authorised to work on prioritising as required and having domain knowledge, and another one is not authorised to do so. And the product owner lacks the required project management skills. 

Project manager vs. product manager vs. product owner – earnings 

Depending on your role in the team and the type of contract, you may receive different salaries. According to the IT community research 2022 earnings are as follows:

Project manager vs. product manager vs. product owner – earnings

Product manager vs. project manager — summary

As you could see, each of these two roles requires a broad and multi-faceted skill set. The success of a project or a product depends on the manager knowing his part well and using his skills to fulfill their job properly. We hope that after reading this article, the differences between product manager vs. project manager roles are clearer to you.

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