Product Manager vs Project Manager: Is there a difference?

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Product Manager vs Project Manager

Introduction – Product Manager vs Project Manager

Product manager and project manager are the two most confusing terms because both roles are linked together though they have slightly different job responsibilities. Product managers have the responsibility of creating and driving the development of projects whereas project managers are primarily responsible for monitoring the execution of those projects. To learn the difference more clearly, here is a deep insight into their respective roles.

For your learning:

Product: It is an item or a service that is created by an organization to fulfill certain customer needs.
Project: It is an array of tasks that are needed to create and maintain a product and are basically result driven

Who is a Product Manager?

A product manager is a professional that strategizes, sets a clear roadmap for product building, and launches it successfully. The individual is also responsible for creating marketing plans, analyzing the competitive market, and accordingly planning revenue generation schemes. A product manager, so to say, drives the entire product development as well as management in a software development company till the product stays in the market.

What does a product manager do? – defined succinctly

  • Gather customer data: Collecting reviews and data received from surveys can be extremely useful in gauging product performance and success.
  • Build a product development plan: Create a roadmap that outlines priorities, product progress, and strategies and organizes the deliverables.
  • Identify problems and roadblocks: Roadblocks like – insufficient resources, lack of software development tools, etc can delay product timeline and can prove to be regressive for product development.
  • Defines product launch: Amongst the many product launches that might be happening at the same time, a product manager prioritizes products according to the success ratio, project requirements, and revenue.
  • Stay updated with the market trends: Doing market research before product development will help the organization succeed.
  • Handling product backlog: Keeping a track of new features, product changes, and development issues to keep a tab on discrepancies and communicating the same during the new release.

Product management requires product sense like – when to move the product to market, when to hold its release or when to replace it. Since product managers are responsible for how the product is working in the market, they inevitably need to collaborate with various verticals like sales, marketing, and customer support to ensure the product they are building matches customer satisfaction perfectly.

Since product managers are thoroughly involved in finalizing the new product launch, it is imperative for them to solve any product-related issues strategically. A change control process can be an effective way to document and track changes in the project.

Product manager skills

Being at a stage where you need to handle the entire product development process from planning to development to launch, the candidate needed for the profile must have the following skills to perform well against the responsibilities.

Soft skills

  • Strategic thinking
  • Excellent communication
  • Analytical skills
  • Flexibility
  • Time management skills
  • Empathy
  • Leadership skills

Technical skills

  • Data Analysis
  • Product Roadmap development
  • Software development skills
  • Knowledge of Agile methodologies
  • Product roadmap development
  • A/B testing

Product manager challenges

  • Organizational communications
  • Team alignments
  • Deadlines
  • Team operations
  • Balancing roles
  • Staying upgraded with the tech

The hardest part of all is communication and aligning the team to one perspective. Everything else falls in line when these two things are managed properly.

Now that you have got a fair idea about what a product manager profile is all about, let’s dig into the responsibilities a Project Manager role holds.

Who is a Project Manager?

A project manager is an individual who is primarily responsible for planning, organizing, and executing the project, keeping in mind budget restraints and other limitations like schedule, etc. Project managers help define the project goals, lead the project, collaborate with the team, define deadlines, communicate with the clients, and monitor the project until it is launched. The success and failure of a project highly rely on the Project Manager. Virtually speaking, they hold the reins of the project and can switch their focus from small crucial details of the development to the overall operations. Hence, a project manager is a professional who knows how to balance and prioritize tasks as per the project requirements.

What does a project manager do? – defined succinctly

  • Defining the scope of a project: Project planning is like determining project goals, costs, tasks, and deadlines and documenting the same.
  • Planning and monitoring the project: To ensure each stint in the project is completed within the given timeline.
  • Managing the project resources: Keeping a track of available resources, their stints, time, and hours.
  • Communicating with the stakeholders effectively: Stating the progress of the project to the stakeholders, and informing them about any delays or additional issues timely.
  • Planning a budget and sticking to it: Keeping the project within budget is the foremost responsibility of a project manager. Anything going beyond that must be clearly communicated to the client. Though, it is avoided in the first place.
  • Assessing the risks and troubleshooting: Figuring out the possible risks and mitigating them with strategic planning.
  • Quality assurance check: Determining that the product developed meets the requirements specified by the client.

Project Manager Skills

Since a project manager plays a crucial role in a company’s success, there are many technical and soft skills that the person needs to imbibe while creating a successful foundation in the workplace.

Soft skills

  • Leadership to direct the team
  • Organization to multitask and run the projects smoothly
  • Critical thinking to analyze and evaluate the issues in prior
  • Effective communication to collaborate with the team and stakeholders

Technical skills

  • Project Scheduling
  • Strategic Planning
  • Project Lifecycle Management
  • Scrum Management
  • Meeting Facilitation
  • Financial Modelling
  • Kanban
  • Forecasting
  • Lean Thinking
  • Performance Tracking
  • Budgeting

Being a project manager isn’t easy at all. You need to keep a tab on the project timeline, scope, and budget. Despite having a big team of technical resources, training materials, and methodologies that are flexible, project managers still struggle to sync everything in line with the limitations. No matter how hard they try, some challenges remain common among all project managers.

Project Manager Challenges

  • Tracking project timelines to meet business objectives
  • Analyzing and mitigating potential risks in the project
  • Coordinating with program and product managers
  • Stay updated with new tools and resources

The intensity of these challenges depends on the complexity and size of the company as well as the profile you are working with, for instance, product manager or program manager.

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Product manager vs Project manager

Product manager is often confused with the profile, of the project manager because at times these roles overlap according to the requirements and the team bandwidth. However, to help our readers understand the difference more clearly between these two profiles, check the table below.

Project ManagerProduct Manager
Takes care of all the project-related requirements from team coordination to task completion.Takes care of all the product-related requirements, be it development or release, and everything that is related to the product.
Planning timelines and resources for the project.Research and set a roadmap for the product.
Plan KPIsPrioritize product launch
Majorly works on team coordination.Make product strategy.
Mitigate errors, failures, and source material and achieve sales targetsTrack project risks, set mitigation plans, communicate with the team, and meet business goals.

How do these roles overlap with the existing difference?

Though there are differences between a product manager and a project manager, these two roles co-exist. Sometimes when a product manager has to monitor product development-related details, he needs to coordinate with the development resources regarding the tasks in progress and the ones tending toward completion. In such a situation, a product manager automatically switches to a task-based role which, otherwise, is a responsibility of a project manager. Likewise, a project manager who has a knack for strategizing and planning the development process might act both ways when needed. Hence, we can conclude that these two profiles are interchangeable when the situation calls for it.

Challenges that might arise due to overlapping

Overlapping product and project manager roles can pose some real challenges, like:

  • Lack of skills: Lack of required technical skills in the product manager may lead to complete dependence on developers to evaluate the time each individual stint would take to complete.
  • Diverted focus: Regular activities of a product manager involve conversing with clients, conducting usability tests, attending events, etc which usually happen outside the office, making it hard for the person to monitor the development team.
  • Too much at stake: The success of a product as well as the project entirely depends on the product manager hence there is too much at risk when it comes to this particular profile.
Having issues with project management

In many enterprises where the team bandwidth is not huge or have smaller projects, both roles are taken up by a single person. Though it might be easy to manage an entire business with the help of project management tools, when the project gets complex or has a longer time span, it is advisable to segregate the roles. This way a product manager will be able to majorly concentrate on achieving the product vision. Whereas, handling resources, keeping track of quality and successful project deployment on time will be solely the project manager’s responsibility. Keeping a tab on the budget, however, will be significant to both roles no matter what.

When to hire a product manager?

Well, sometimes it is not at all necessary to hire a product manager for solving one or two issues. You should only hire a product manager in the following cases:

  • When you as a founder are not able to run the product or the product team.
  • Team is experiencing trouble and there is no other way to resolve it.
  • When the product is complex and the team has a mixed bag of profiles rather than just salespeople significantly doing most of the work.

When to hire a project manager?

Project manager is a very crucial profile. Organizations desperately start hiring project managers when:

  • The number of employees in a team goes beyond 10.
  • Organization procures bigger clients or projects.
  • Teams suffer from inefficiency and overwork.


Product manager and project manager, both are powerful roles. Working in tandem, both of these profiles can help connect team members to carry out the project in a timely and efficient manner. They can bring new initiatives for the progress of the organization and develop a concrete roadmap to match the long-term business objectives.


What is the Role of a Product Manager?

A product manager identifies customer requirements, creates product vision, strategizes and develops a roadmap for product development, and monitors the progress of the product to launch it successfully in the market. So, a product manager is accountable for any challenges that come across while developing the product.

Is There Any Overlap Between Product and Project Managers?

Yes, the two roles can be swapped according to the requirements of the company. When the product needs more attention, a project manager can act like a product manager in case he has technical knowledge. Alternatively, when the project needs resource collaboration and team management, a product manager can act as a project manager. However, these two roles are different and it is advisable to keep two separate individuals for the respective profiles unless the team is too small or the project is quite simple.

How do product managers and project managers work together?

Product managers and project managers work together though they have different roles. A product manager visualizes product vision and the trajectory of a product, whereas, a project manager ensures those goals are met timely using the needed resources and within the given budget.

Can a product manager be a project manager?‎

Yes, a product manager can act as a project manager as well if the project requires team management, resource allocation to tasks, communication of product progress, or coordination between stakeholders and the team for project updates and requirement clarity.

Does the product manager need to know coding?

Product managers don’t require coding skills. However, having a basic knowledge of programming languages and technical principles may greatly help them in understanding the time required for a particular stint or how to resolve technical challenges when need be. Being aware of how things work definitely enhances efficiency and hence any extra skill is a cherry on top.

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Meenakshi Kalyani

Meenakshi is a writer at OpenXcell. Her writing is a reflection of the deep knowledge that she has of the silicon world. Corroborated by intriguing facts and innovative ideas, her articles present every aspect of constant technological evolution. When she is not penning, you will find her painting, traveling, or introspecting her emotions to craft a piece on @sutured_emotions.


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