The Difference Between Product Management and Project Management

700 465 David DeWolf

It never ceases to amaze me how few people in the software industry understand what a product manager does.

So many times when we open up for a product manager, of the resumes we have submitted, around 80% will be for a project manager position, not for product management.

Project management is very important, but it is not product management.

The role of a product manager can be described using the analogy of a railroad. The product manager is responsible for laying the tracks. They navigate the landscape and determine where the train will go. It is their responsibility to avoid the obstacles and make sure the train is successful at arriving at its destination.

Project management is responsible for making the train run. They’re responsible for the internal operations of the train. They answer the question of how fast it goes down the track.

These two disciplines, working in concert, are essential.

The product manager is responsible for defining the product vision, the product definition, the road map, and the features and functions that will be in the product. They do this by pulling together marketing, customer feedback, finance, and the engineering team. That’s how they determine what it is the software product will become.

Product management is an essential function in building software that touches the customer’s customer and is a successful product within a market.

By having great product management you have a true ability to differentiate, innovate, disrupt markets, and grow market share. Product management is essential.

That’s not to minimize the need for project management. That is also important, but these two different domains need to be well understood for what they are.