Demystifying Terminology: Project Manager vs. Product Manager

Wait, what’s the difference between a Project Manager and a Product Manager? It’s a question we here at Tyrannosaurus Tech get all the time. With so many hands touching a software development project, stakeholders need to define and understand several roles. Naturally, this can get confusing if you’re unfamiliar with how a cross-functional team comes together to build and grow a new product. In this blog post, we’ll break down the differences between a Project Manager and a Product Manager to help you categorize the two positions.

Project Manager

A Project Manager oversees the timeline, team, and resources needed to complete a discreet project. A given project may be defined as anything from a new feature release or user experience overhaul for an existing product to a from-the-ground-up MVP (minimum viable product) build and launch. The Project Manager is responsible for the success of a given project and is laser-focused on pushing productivity forward. This fast-paced, tactical role requires understanding the team, their skillsets, and how they work together to achieve goals, including appropriately timing pieces of work that have dependencies across the team. The Project Manager defines the granular requirements and delegates them via design or development tickets to ensure the project adheres to the scope, budget, and timeline. They are also master facilitators of collaboration and communication.

A Project Manager’s day-to-day responsibilities include gathering requirements, setting meetings, asking questions, assigning tasks, managing teams, monitoring adherence to budgets and timelines, and communicating results to the product stakeholders. They ensure that the work is being assigned and delivered on time and meets expectations at a high level.

Product Manager

Product Managers supervise and guide the entire lifecycle of a digital product. From synthesizing early-stage user and market research to overseeing an evolving product feature set, a Product Manager defines the overarching vision for the product. In short, compared to a Project Manager who is focused on the success of a discreet project, this person drives the broader strategic vision and big picture success of the product. This role requires a range of skills to thrive within this long-term mindset. A Product Manager needs to know how to conduct (or at least analyze) relevant market and user research, deeply understand the product users and the challenges they face, and align all of this information to create a truly compelling solution. This broad understanding of the product landscape and users allows the Product Manager to build an evolving roadmap for the digital product.

A quality Product Manager is obsessed with the users and the product (but in the best way possible). Their commitment to the user makes the product better. They aren’t afraid to get into the weeds to uncover problems, interview users to understand their changing needs, and identify improvements to implement. They work closely with designers and other stakeholders to help solve the users’ problems and link the product back to the goals and KPIs of the business.

Why do these roles get blurry?

Part of the reason that Project Management and Product Management are commonly confused (besides the fact that they sound similar) is that the roles can sometimes overlap. For example, in a small company where people wear many hats, one person may operate as both the Project Manager and Product Manager. In an ideal cross-functional team, they are distinctly different roles. There may even be multiple Product Managers working on and overseeing various pieces of the product in a larger organization with a robust product. Similarly, there may be multiple Project Managers focused on different projects that are running in tandem.

To distill this down for simplicity: A Project Manager primarily focuses on the success of a given project, and a Product Manager focuses on the product’s success as a whole.

Project Managers and Product Managers work closely together to deliver a product that solves the users’ problem and aligns with the company vision. Understanding how each position plays a critical role in your digital development process will help you assemble the best team possible for the job. To learn more about how our Project Managers lead our agile process, check out our blog post.