On Project Management and Product Management

The link to the video is at the bottom of the post.

Are there any significant differences between the disciplines of project management and product management?

My opinion is that each is a well-established discipline, which goes beyond nomenclature and could at best be complementary.

Project managers are professionals who oversee projects with the broad goal of seeing them achieve their stated objectives and deliver the goods from such efforts to the team that would operate them. Think of building a new stadium, a new hospital or a new product or product capability/feature. 

On the other hand, product managers own the product from end to end – from visioning to alignment with organisational visions, objectives and strategy; to post-product release management and engagement with customers, management and other important stakeholders. Think of the stadium – its visibility to event organisers, its performance as an events destination, the cost of running it, the revenue it generates, and the comfort and safety of guests amongst other considerations.

In creating a new product, there could be one or many projects. In maintaining or improving a product’s performance in the market, there could be one or many projects. Think of a situation where guests complain about access to the stadium for sold-out events. a new project could be implemented to widen the access roads and increase the number of access roads to the stadium. The stadium remains the product. The new projects to widen existing access roads and add new access roads are, well projects.

Project managers need to be aware of the broad context in which their work exists. Product managers can provide that context.

Product managers need to understand project management to adequately own and manage such intricacies as release schedules, customer expectations, and strategic alignment amongst other things.

In a digital business or environment, project managers and product managers would work together for any chance of such a business to succeed. But, there are others in the delivery train that would also contribute to success.

On the question of whether or not a single person can play both roles. The rather complex answer is yes and no.

Yes, if the scale of the product and the projects required to deliver it are small enough for an individual to both manage the product and the projects required to launch and iteratively improve the product. And no, if the product is a complex product in a complex environment. However, general guidance is to keep both functions separate (but complimentary) in order for the business to reap the best of the offerings of both disciplines.

On the question of seniority, I doubt there is really a universal answer, as both disciplines are critical to a business’ success, albeit in different ways. And both have established career paths that can be leveraged by individuals to grow and establish themselves as professionals.




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