Project and Product Management: not the same thing

Is it a project or a product manager that I need? This is not a question asked by the entrepreneurs because these terms are frequently mixed up and used for the same profiles. However, for those who are very well aware of product management, the difference is big.

Project vs Product Management

Project can be anything to deliver a result, a product or a service.

  • Project management is a set of tasks to ensure sure that the sought result is achieved with time and budget constraints in mind.
  • It is about managing resources and adjusting planning to deliver the project on time and on budget. Risk management is at the heart of the project management.
  • Risks related to delays in delivery, excess in budget, team management, task assignment, etc should be always in a project manager’s agenda.

Product is a tangible output for a market need in order to create a profitable business. Thus, product manager works across disciplines such as sales, marketing, product development and customer support. And is concerned about :

  • Product’s positioning in the market
  • Its packaging to meet customer criteria
  • Product roadmap for the lifecycle evolution without deviating from the market and the profitability
  • Product strengths and weaknesses vis-a-vis competition.

How to fulfill and succeed each role

These roles are very clear in more structured organizations where companies are at more mature phases. On the other hand, early stages where human resources are limited are when these roles get confusing and used in the place for each other. This is because there is one person who is doing both project and product management.

Taking some examples to see how each can achieve their own goals :

On the topic of project management :

You are using freelancers for the development of your startup product.

Your budget and your planning are extremely precious.

You need a tight project management to manage your freelancers, developers, interns, etc.

Black box approach of “here is what I want and see you in a few months” is the recipe for a failure unless you are way too lucky to have a perfect freelancer.

For success, follow your planning, risks, and issues very closely. The above are main pillars of successful project management. Remember that you cannot have a good grip of on-time and on-budget product development unless you have a good project management in place.

On the topic of product management :

In addition to project management, either you or somebody you assign as product manager shall take care of product management tasks. Some key considerations for product management are :

Have a continuous focus on product’s fit to market. This means non-stop watching the product evolution and how the new features support either new customer development or impact existing customer engagement. This way market alignment is observed on an ongoing basis.

It also means adapting its packaging and modules by defining product specifications and re-studying the business model to have the right pricing and modules.

Competition is another pillar that impacts product’s positioning. Product managers watch out for differentiators vis-a-vis competitors in their market and support a healthy evolution of product strategy.

All this is to set a proper product vision. The product vision is concretized in product roadmap and product backlog, which are product manager’s essential tools.

Not an “Either-Or” Choice

It is not an either-orr” equation when you think of product and project managers for your team. It is both. For startups, you will most probably end up having to select profiles that meet both criteria. Since product manager is more concerned about the viability of the business, we see them typically on the founder team. If you can get separate individuals for these roles, then make sure to put the clear boundaries on who is the project manager and who is the product manager.