Product Managers vs. Project Managers

by Richard Banfield

There’s an ongoing confusion as to the difference between Product Management and Project Management. Let’s try clear this up once and for all.

Jonathan Snook’s recent post about product management got me rethinking an issue we have dealt with in the past. Providing product teams with leadership and guidance is something that a lot of companies struggle with. So let’s get this straight right upfront: Product Management, especially the Product Director role, is different from Project Management.

If you’re building a software product you need both a Product Manager (or Director) and a Project Manager. Very small companies and startups might have those roles performed by the same person but it’s not advised. We don’t recommend this for the simple reason that they are two very distinct areas of responsibility. The product management role is all out providing direction and leadership, the project management role is all about making sure the team gets to that vision. Another way to think about is that the Product Manager is in charge of the why, while the Project Manager is in charge of the how.

Regardless of the company size or structure these roles need to be distinct. In a service company like ours, the Product Manager is normally a member of the client team and the Project Manager is normally a person on the service team. At Fresh Tilled Soil we insist on having a Project Manager on every project. If the client offers to provide a project manager we will still provide our own project manager to ensure that our team has all the support they need to be awesome. Updating schedules, task lists, coordinating phone calls and meetings and staying on track with sprint schedules is not something you want to trust to designers and developers when they have so much else to do.

Product managers are responsible for the overall product vision, directing the people (including all the touchy-feely stuff) and the roadmap (the strategy) for getting there. Project managers are responsible for getting the logistics, scheduling, planning and task allocations done. Think of is as the Product Manager being the CEO of the product and the Project Manager being the COO of the product.

About Richard Banfield

Richard is a the CEO and co-founder of Fresh Tilled Soil. After completing a degree in Biology, Richard was attracted to the...