Greg Geracie, Actuation Consulting, Take Charge Product Management

What’s the Difference Between a Project Manager and a Product Manager?

In 2013, Agile, Business Analysis, Lee Lambert, Product Management, Product Management Facts, Product Marketing, Product Owner, Product Teams, Project Management, Scrumby 1 Comment

Several weeks ago Steven and I, along with David Heidt IIBA Chicagoland chapter president, were presenting to the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Chicago chapter. After our presentation our hosts collected the questions that we were not able to address as the clock ran out. The question that was on everyone’s mind was “what is the difference between a project manager and a product manager?”

To understand the difference between the roles we need to look closely at two things. First, we need to understand the phases of the product management lifecycle.* We can then highlight the difference between these two critically important roles. So let’s start with the product management lifecycle.

Imagine for a moment a horizontal plane that has seven phases shoulder to shoulder. The seven phases are Conceive, Plan, Develop, Qualify, Launch, Deliver and Retire. All products universally, and without exception, move through each of these phases sequentially. The only difference is the amount of time it takes to move from one phase to the next.

With an understanding of the product management lifecycle in hand we can then look at the specific roles of project and product managers. Product managers are responsible for optimizing results throughout the entire product management lifecycle. In other words, to optimize the creation and maintenance of VALUE throughout each unique phase of the lifecycle.

This is different than project management where, rather than staying with the product from conception to ultimate retirement, project managers typically are involved from the Plan Phase of the product management lifecycle to the Launch Phase where they roll off and take part in the next project. |

Another way of thinking about this is to say that project managers have a defined span of vertical leadership (working closely with the product manager or owner) for a specific length of time (the project) with a focus on effectively managing the scope, schedule, and cost of the project. While product managers focus on optimizing the VALUE of the effort and lead horizontal activities (e.g. throughout the product management lifecycle).

Both of these roles enhance each other and the effectiveness of the overall product development team and are in fact separate and distinct functional roles with different focuses and objectives. However, the more tightly these two roles can be aligned around VALUE the more success the product development team and ultimately the product and the organization will enjoy. It’s important to point out that while effective collaboration between these two roles drives tremendous organizational benefit these two roles should not be co-mingled as this creates a conflict of interest.

You can learn more about how to effectively drive collaboration between these two roles and improve organizational effectiveness in our popular training course Creating Value Through Collaboration. This course was jointly developed with Lee Lambert of the Lambert Consulting Group and offered regularly by Actuation Consulting and the Association of International Product Marketing and Management. The course offers 16 PDU’s.

* See page two for an illustration of the product management  lifecycle

Greg Geracie is a recognized thought leader in the field of product management and the President of Actuation Consulting, a global provider of product management consulting, training, and advisory services to some of the world’s most well-known organizations. Greg is also the author of the global best seller Take Charge Product Management. He is also an adjunct professor at DePaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on high-tech and digital product management. 

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