Looking towards 2022: product vs. project management

Product vs. project management? Not exactly. Both roles are crucial and they are meant to deliver maximum performance in terms of productivity, coordination, and customer happiness.

Fidel Chaves
9 min read

Product vs. project management

Product and project management roles are crucial in IT, and they are meant to deliver maximum performance in terms of productivity and coordination. Many think of it as a product vs. project management situation, and even if there is some overlapping, it’s not exactly the case.

 

Product managers and project managers have a direct impact on the success of a product or project. In addition, both types of managers need to work closely and organize collaboration in a work scenario that may even involve their responsibilities overlapping at times.

 

In any case, the essential tasks fulfilled by a product manager and a project manager are, generally speaking, specific and distinct.

What is a product manager?

The product manager is often referred to as the "product CEO" since, in a company, they are in charge of managing the lifecycle of a product from beginning to end, but this definition might be problematic. These professionals are expected to provide a vision for their product and carry it over to the entire organization. They develop a strategy and assess its feasibility together with other areas of the company.

 

Product managers are savvy in Design Thinking and have exceptional communication skills. In a nutshell, the role of the product manager is to leverage the development of a product and lead it to success. For that, their work dynamic has a set of well-defined functions.

#1 Researching

A good product manager stands out as a talented person to spot business opportunities based on data collection. By leveraging information on market trends, they design strategic plans and use the available technological and financial resources to move forward.

 

Product managers should always be listening to customers and their problems. As Dave Wascha points out in his conference, PMs are often deaf to the customers’ needs and prioritize the company’s. It is not about working against your product but looking for a solution that combines user needs with business solutions. But PMs should not demand those solutions from the customers. Coming up with solutions is what Design Thinking is for; and falls under the scope of the product manager, not the customers.

 

Dave’s talk sets the pillars for good product management. Along the research lines, remember to study your competition without becoming obsessed with them. Getting paid is okay (and necessary), you are providing a service to your customers.

 

Research, as we’ve seen with the design thinking process, allows you to put yourself in other's shoes, acknowledge your ignorance, and provide a well-thought-out solution. Don’t worry if you are a bit of a thief in the process—not all ideas will come out from your brain. You don’t have to be a visionary; you have to learn how to comprehend others.

#2 Strategic vision

Product managers analyze their product and company differentials compared to the competition and then provide a value proposition. What does this mean? You are striving to please your customers, not building solutions for problems that they don’t have. Product managers know the consumer and market behavior and have a far-reaching view of the industry, which reduces the chances of failure.

 

This way of looking at the world stems from a traditional extraction from engineering, problem-solving careers, and a strategic mindset. I referred before to the PM as the product’s CEO, but this comparison falls short.

 

Product managers oversee the product but are not always in a position of authority; it is more about being the glue that holds the whole team together. That is why many PMs have to create an impact without having authority and work on the team culture. How teams get things done is crucial.

 

If you are interested in a day in the life of a product manager, you can watch Joshua Fiorillo’s video listed below. As he explains, you have to know how to translate your vision to day-to-day activities and make tradeoff decisions that often involve user experience, tech, and business at the same time. You are responsible for a product and its success, no small burden.

#3 Establishing processes

The product manager designs the entire cycle of a product, from its early outline to launch. That involves defining an optimal time and resource allocation for processes, establishing production parameters, and verifying which tools will be needed for the project. Think of it as designing a roadmap. Many product managers benefit from multidisciplinary teams, agile methodologies, and sensible managing techniques.

 

We’ve talked before about Design Thinking, but if you watch Colors of Chloe’s video, it will add up precisely to what we are discussing here. She explains that it is a very sought-after position and that it is essential for PMs to be involved in UX, tech, and business. The daily routine of a product manager requires strong communication skills to provide fast and effective processes to get solutions.

Adding to the strategic vision, Chloe mentions three primary goals of the PMs work:

 

  • Articulating what a winning product looks like
  • Rallying the entire team
  • Iterating until we get it right

 

These pillars will let you bring the benefits home while sticking to your roadmap and following your north star metric, which is the metric that the company uses as its primary focus for growth.

#4 Automation

We have previously talked about automation & orchestration. Product managers are in charge of the project schedule, so everyone knows their duties and tasks. They also assign roles to each team member. Once the roadmap is set, the PM has to automate every process distributed in the task schedule.

 

That is why product managers swim in meetings, documentation, and chats, as they have to ruthlessly prioritize and maintain a bird view of the whole product management process.

#5 Product negotiation

Product managers are the ones to go to when it comes to finding out about the attributes of each product. So, not only are they responsible for making the entire organization "fall in love" with the product, but they are also in charge of marketing it to partners and persuading potential customers.

 

This is what Joshua Fiorillo (who introduces himself as a problem-solver and Jack of all trades) describes in his vlog. The ability to see the bigger picture, do the appropriate research, have a passion for data, and understanding people make the people mentioned today great product managers.

 

Product management covers a wide range of activities and will benefit from a learning mindset, an attentive ear, and a never-ending curiosity. A big part of the job consists of putting out fires or answering questions. Being involved in human interactions is necessary.

What does a project manager do?

Project managers are the authority in everything related to the tiny little details of a project. They plan and implement overall production. They are also responsible for turning strategic plans into small achievable goals. Project managers then measure the success of those goals and bring solutions in real-time.

 

Their skills include but are not limited to: coordinating and adapting to change, delegating responsibilities, and creating a team dynamic. Those who have exceptional leadership skills are an ideal fit for this role. Their main functions are as follows:

#1 Defining the team

Project managers are responsible for recruiting the right staff for each project. In addition, they design the work structure and make the initial presentation of goals. That is why leadership, team organization, time management, and conflict resolution skills are so significant.

 

As said by Adriana Girdler, a project manager will often be the mother hen or the father rooster. What’s that? Project managers will be babysitting grownups: to make sure that the team delivers, keep up with the schedule, and fulfill the expectations of the project. At the same time, they act as the team cheerleaders. It’s not only about putting pressure on your team; it’s about motivating them to be their best selves.

#2 Planning

Project managers set up the work schedule and define the budget for each stage. They also need to design a plan to prevent any contingencies and bring solutions in case they occur. Besides, it is their responsibility to save project time, avoid problems, and guarantee a stable economic investment.

 

This is where things can get pretty similar to product management, as managing often has an overlapping skill set. At this point, the project manager should be the gatekeeper that safeguards the project, ensuring that things don’t spiral out of control and nothing escapes their gaze. It also entails being the paper pusher, as project managers have to keep people on track and juggle all the documentation while doing budget allocation, task planning, and periodic progress updates.

#3 Implementing

They set the designed plan in motion and follow up the tasks of the work team, keeping track of each progress and monitoring quality and risk parameters. The implementing part of the job is why many industries look for individuals with a strong goal orientation, an aptitude for research, and an industry-savvy inclination.

#4 Reporting

Project managers let the organization know about the wrap-up of the production process and set new tasks and goals for the team. They report to a supervisor to communicate what they have learned and implemented, which also evokes the Design Thinking process. It is a way to ensure customer satisfaction while improving the bottom line for the shareholders: everybody is satisfied at the end of the day.

Looking towards 2022

We established the differences between product and project management, but, as always, reality has a way of twisting everything. If responsibilities had been clearly defined in any job before 2020, the pandemic came about like a hurricane, making everyone change their work dynamic, be it from home or in the front lines. Management positions also had to change.

 

Emerging from the global crisis, managers have the responsibility of becoming better leaders looking towards 2022 and onward now more than ever. Startups are overflowing, and many managers have to fulfill both roles, sometimes even more. As Simon Sinek puts it in many of his talks, leadership is less about the position of authority and more about how managers treat the people they are responsible for.

 

At Awkbit, we pay special attention to understanding the scope of these roles. We know that the product and project managers sometimes converge in a single person, especially in small companies and startups. We strongly recommend acknowledging both roles to guarantee success while prioritizing emotional intelligence and communication. Do you want to enhance your management skills?

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Sources & further reading