What Product Managers can Learn from Project Managers

Product managers and project managers:  how do they compare?  Though the titles of these careers may look and sound similar, the job descriptions are really quite different. However, both product and project managers can learn a great deal from one another to better perform their own job duties.  Let’s take a look at the general responsibilities for these two positions.

Project Managers:  These professionals are primarily connected to the “how” and “when” of a project.  The main responsibilities of a project manager are to develop clear, detailed, and attainable objectives for a project, build the project requirements and oversee and manage constraints such as the cost, time, scope and quality of a given project.  Some have likened the role of product manager to that of a midwife – he or she oversees the project from start to finish, “delivers” the product to the product manager and then proceeds to the next assignment.

Product Managers:  These individuals are typically responsible for defining and analyzing market conditions for a product, and discovering and quantifying the problems that the product must solve for the market.  They are the “what” and “why” folks. They research customer needs and develop sales and marketing plans that will increase product awareness and get the product to the market.

Both types of managers possess certain traits that make them succeed in their work, and naturally some of these traits overlap.

The best project managers:

  • Know the right questions and answers to present to stakeholders and are equally adept at listening to them.
  • Are able to quickly and frequently re-evaluate project priorities and make appropriate adjustments when needed.
  • Are deeply familiar with one or more areas, granting them natural authority and necessary strategic insight.
  • Can sift through information and data rapidly and determine where action is needed and what can be left as is.

Successful product managers:

  • Are excellent communicators.  One of their critical roles is to act as the communication hub for all product-related matters, meaning it is imperative that they know how to effectively communicate with different personality types such as introverts and extroverts.  They are also adept at knowing their “audience;” that is, they are able to adjust their message according to whom they are talking to so that both parties understand all matters clearly.
  • Know how to be leaders without being authoritarian.  Through a combination of negotiation, influence, and relationship building, the best product managers can steer their ship calmly and steadily.
  • Learn quickly and possess a solid understanding of the fundamentals of business.  They know how to identify opportunities and strategies that will lead to a winning product.

Clearly, the strengths of project and product managers can overlap despite the difference in their roles.  In order to serve as effective leaders, both positions can learn from the characteristics their counterpart is known for.  Time management, excellent communication skills, effective leadership practices and attention to detail are all areas that serve both product and project managers well. Take a moment to think of these and other skills and traits that your counterpart may possess which could help you be more successful, manage tasks more effectively, and develop better relationships with your team.

Ryan Sauer is a writer and editor for Bisk Education in association with University Alliance. He actively writes about project management in different industries and strives to help professionals succeed in getting their project management certification. Through the University Alliance, Ryan writes to help encourage professionals obtain their PMP certification online

Paul Young

Paul Young

Paul Young oversees the strategic development of Pragmatic Institute’s portfolio of products and leads the executive team in the evaluation of new product opportunities. He also manages the instructor team. Paul began his career as a software developer and has worked in startups and large companies across B2B and B2C industries, including telecommunications and networking, IT and professional services, consumer electronics and enterprise software. He has managed P&L lines for products with hundreds of millions in revenue, and faced difficult choices about which products in the portfolio to retain and which to kill. Reach him at pyoung@pragmaticmarketing.com.


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