What’s the difference between a Project Manager and a Product Manager?

Published by Massimoluigi Casinelli on

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Introduction

In order to understand the difference of the two roles, it’s necessary first understanding some concepts:

  • A “product” (service and/or product) must be designed and built before reaching the market; this is the project execution phase, which is under responsibility of the project manager.
  • Once the product is built and tested, the project manager handovers the product to the product manager, who will be in charge of managing the product during its commercial cycle-life: from its launch on the market throughout the product life-cycle; the commercial life of the product is under responsibility of the product manager.

Project Management and product management apply at different stage of the whole product life-cycle.

The basic question “What’s the difference between a Project Manager and a Product Manager?” should be expanded to include more articulated questions:

  • Why a marketing oriented company should be interested in developing project management?
  • Should the product manager be educated in project management too, and why?
  • How can companies be organized to enhance product management: from project development, to commercial exploitation of its products?

Organizational aspects

1st concept: organizations can be grouped into:

  • Project driven organization: these companies typically sell the projects to Clients, who are the projects Owners.
  • NON project driven organizations: these companies do not sell projects but they need to develop products.

2nd concept: internal organization

Companies can adopt, in some extension, “project-oriented” organizational models, in order to manage effectively product development, using project management approaches and methods; this organizational model overcomes some of the problems affecting “traditional organizations” in the execution of “projects”.

Higlight the differences of roles

Can a product manager be involved in the project execution ? Of  course, he can, but he is not the project manager. The role of a product manager during the realization of the project is very similar to one of the project “Owner”, above described. In other words the product manager could be the internal client in a non-project driven organization.

Once the product is built and tested, the project manager handovers the project to the product manager, who will be in charge of managing the product during its cycle-life: from its launch on the market throughout the product life-cycle.

Does this entail that product manager is also a project manager? No, it does not: the project manager do care about the realization of the new product.

The product manager do care about the interaction of the product with the market as he is focused on commercial aspects, until the end life of the product. The product manager will be able also to provide inputs for the evolution of the product, so his role is crucial for the product development.

Can a product manager be involved in the project execution ? Of course, he can, but he is not the project manager. The role of a product manager during the realization of the project is very similar to one of the project “Owner”, acting as an internal Client. The Owner establishes the technical and performance requirements of the “new product”, but, in a company organized by projects: he can contribute in developing an effective project management system for realizing its products better and faster, with high quality standards.

Conclusions

  1. A project manager is focused on the execution of the project and, particularly on the timely completion of the project by an established “contractual” date.
  2. The product manager is focused on the commercial life of the product, and he would like that his/her product will never come at the end; even when the product has reached is end of life, the product manager tries to extend the life of “his” product beyond its natural life, by creating for example new spin-off products.
  3. Project manager and product manager are two different roles with a common interest: realize the new product timely to reach the market, before the competitors; the project manager is technical oriented; the product manager is commercial oriented.
  4. A product manager should certainly have some project management competences and skills because he/she might be involved even during the execution phase, in providing inputs for product development as well as in acting as the project’s Owner. For these reasons, especially in companies organized by projects, the product manager must have some skills in project management.
Categories: Short notes

Massimoluigi Casinelli

Massimoluigi Casinelli

I am a chartered civil engineer and certified CCP (cost engineering and total cost management) at AACE International, with thirty years of experience in project management of the construction sector. I deliver expert planning, programme management and project controls on multibillions-Euro infrastructure programmes, including highways and railways, metro, air terminals and complex buildings (commercial, residential, schools), with some experience in oil & gas and power. I worked in advanced contexts of project management (from matrix organizations of EPC contractors to large employers organized to manage complex capital projects), by undertaking various roles in the field of project management / controls and contract management; this diverse range of experiences allowed me to gain knowledge on the various components of project controls (schedule, cost estimating, budgeting and cost control, progress and performance measurement, risk and claim management). I am an Italian citizen, currently in Italy.

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