Product Manager vs Project Manager: How are they different?

Project management and product management seem to be two very similar roles within a company. Still, there is quite a bit of confusion between what a project manager does and what responsibilities a product manager has. It’s important to understand the differences between the two roles so you can make the best decision for your team or your own career path.

What is a product manager?

A product manager is a professional who oversees all stages of production for a specific product. This includes working with designers, developers, and other team members to ensure that each production stage is completed on time and within budget. 

What does a product manager do?

Product managers set strategies, develop products, and manage those who create and sell products for a company. A product manager takes a lead role in defining, delivering, and evolving products. 

They work with other teams, such as sales and marketing, to ensure that their plans for a product align with the business’s goals and customers’ needs. They ensure that a product is delivered on time and works as it should from concept to end-of-life.

Read more: Best Product Management Certifications

Skills of a product manager

Product managers are responsible for launching a product, monitoring its success, and managing any necessary updates. The following are the soft and technical skills needed to succeed in this role.

Product manager soft skills

Successful product managers are able to demonstrate the following soft skills:

  • Leadership: Product managers should be able to set a good example for their teams and inspire their direct reports to perform their best every day. 
  • Time management: It’s imperative that product managers manage their time appropriately to complete all tasks without sacrificing quality or stressing the team. 
  • Communication: Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal, are required for product managers, as is the ability to present complex ideas simply and clearly.
  • Delegation skills: A product manager must know when it’s appropriate to delegate tasks and when it’s not.
  • Prioritization skills: A good product manager prioritizes well and understands which tasks are most important at any given time, ensuring that those tasks are completed first before moving on to less critical ones.
  • Strategic thinking: Product managers should be able to identify problems that need solving, determine potential solutions, and create a plan for making them happen.

Product manager technical skills

Product managers must also have the following technical skills:

  • Knowledge of development principles: It is essential for product managers to understand how software products are built and how long specific tasks take in the context of the software development life cycle
  • Research and analysis: Product managers must be able to conduct research on market conditions, competitors, customer needs, and other relevant areas of business. Then, they must be able to analyze data from various sources such as surveys or market research reports on industry trends. 
  • Knowledge of A/B testing: An A/B test is an experiment comparing two versions of a web page, app screen, or other content to see which performs better. This skill is important for product managers who want to ensure their product is the best it can be.
  • Knowledge of the user life cycle: The user lifecycle describes all of the stages users go through when interacting with a product. Product managers should have an idea of what type of support users might need at any given moment.

Average salary of a product manager

According to Glassdoor, the average salary of a product manager in the United States is $97,292 per year.

What is a project manager?

A project manager is a professional who ensures an organization’s objectives and goals are met by managing all aspects of a project lifecycle from start to finish. This professional is accountable for coordinating and facilitating each phase of a project from initiation to completion. Most importantly, project managers must ensure each step is completed on time. 

What does a project manager do? 

The project manager’s job is focused on ensuring deliverable goals are met on time. They also manage resources (people and money) effectively to ensure projects stay within budget. 

Project manager responsibilities include everything from helping define what success looks like at each stage of a project to making sure everyone involved knows what they need to do next. A project manager will also help keep teams motivated throughout a long-term project and deal with any issues that arise during the project.

Read more on Project-Management.com: Tips for How to Keep Clients Happy

Skills of a project manager 

There are specific skills that every project manager should have to excel at their job within any industry.

Project manager soft skills

Key soft skills for project managers include the following:

  • Communication: Project managers must be able to communicate effectively with all members of a team.
  • Leadership: Effective project management requires the ability to inspire people, maintain focus on big-picture goals, and drive toward those goals despite obstacles that may come up.
  • Collaboration: It’s critical that project managers can work with a large team to solve problems, brainstorm new ideas, and keep the project on track.
  • Scheduling and time management: Project managers should be able to manage multiple tasks simultaneously.
  • Adaptability: Project managers must remain flexible and able to pivot quickly if the project demands it. 

Project manager technical skills

In terms of technical skills, project managers should have the following:

  • Project management methodologies: Project managers should understand project management frameworks such as PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) and the Agile methodology. 
  • Risk management: Project managers must recognize and mitigate risks before they become detrimental to the project.
  • Project management software: Project managers should be able to use a variety of tools to help them manage their workload. These may be as simple as a spreadsheet or as robust as product suites like Jira, Basecamp, Trello, and others.
  • Project scheduling: Gantt charts and similar tools help schedule tasks and track progress over time. As such, project managers should have extensive knowledge of how to leverage these capabilities. 
  • Workflow visualization: Project managers must have the ability to create a visual representation of project workflows using Kanban software. This type of software helps teams visualize what tasks are being worked on, what tasks are waiting to be worked on, and what tasks have been completed.
  • Performance tracking: Tracking performance against goals allows project managers to adjust course when necessary and ensure that everyone stays focused on getting results.
  • Forecasting: Understanding how long a project will take to complete is critical for project managers to ensure it gets done on time and within budget. 

Average salary of a project manager

According to Glassdoor, the average salary of a project manager in the United States is $74,088 per year.

Product manager vs project manager: which role is right for you? 

Product managers and project managers are both responsible for working with key stakeholders to meet essential deadlines, but each position serves a distinct purpose. An in-depth understanding of both roles will help you decide what’s best for your company or career. 

For individuals looking to choose a career path, both product and project managers can be highly worthwhile. If you prefer to work with tangible deliverables rather than abstract goals, project management might be the right career move for you. On the other hand, product management might be more appropriate if you thrive when working with others and have strong interpersonal skills.

If you’re looking to determine which role is suitable for your team, it’s essential to consider each position’s specific responsibilities and how those align with your company’s needs. If there’s a lot of ambiguity associated with your projects, then a project manager might be better suited for managing change within your organization. On the other hand, if you need someone who understands your long-term vision and has experience building products from scratch, it might be worth considering a product manager instead. 

Read next: What Does a Technical Product Manager Do?

Aminu Abdullahi
Aminu Abdullahi
Aminu Abdullahi is an award-winning public speaker and a passionate writer. He writes to edutain (Educate + Entertain) his reader about Business, Technology, Growth, and everything in between. He is the coauthor of the e-book, The Ultimate Creativity Playbook. Aminu loves to inspire greatness in the people around him through his actions and inactions.

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