Your project management office (PMO) will always work with project managers, and you can also have product managers under your purview. It may sound like the roles could be interchangeable, so it’s important to get to the bottom of the differences between a project manager and a product manager.

Whether you have the role of a product manager in your projects structure may depend on whether you use an agile or waterfall methodology. It can rely on a range of other factors as well, such as organisation size and the projects you work on.

To help you understand the different roles of a project manager and a product manager, we’re going to look at:

  • What areas each role tends to focus on
  • The activities a project manager and product manager will undertake
  • What outcomes you can expect from each role

Before diving into how to choose which role you need, how the roles complement each other, and which is the better career option on coming blogs.

What areas do project and product managers focus on?

It’s commonly said that you can distinguish a project manager from a product manager depending on the question they aim to resolve. A project manager answers the “how” and “when” while a product manager answers the “what” and “why”.

This means that a project manager pays attention to getting the project delivered on time and on budget. For them, it’s all about achieving the deliverables in the most efficient way possible.

In contrast, a product manager deals with the quality of the end product. They will set a strategic vision for the end-product and ensure that when it is delivered, it meets the needs of the client and/or the end user.

What do a project manager and a product manager do?

The daily activities of a project and product manager are different, although they both have the same overarching aim – to deliver the best product possible to the client.

What does a project manager do?

A project manager is responsible for planning a project and executing it. From the start of a project, they will plan the resources and time it will take to complete the project.

Project management is about creating and then managing the workflow so that budgets are stuck to, and tasks are completed at the right time. To enable this, there needs to be a strong element of team management and leadership.

You can expect a project manager to be a technical or subject matter expert. They need to understand the tasks that need doing, how long they will take, and who has the skills on the team to execute them.

What does a product manager do?

A product manager needs to ensure the product being worked on is fit for purpose at the end of the project. They need to be testing the product at each stage and comparing it to what the client is expecting.

It’s up to a product manager to work with stakeholders to confirm their needs. This then needs to be communicated back to the project manager to ensure the work being done matches the scope.

A product manager doesn’t need to know the ins and outs of how a product gets over the line, but they do need to know what the end result should look like. They need to set the priorities for the project team, so their focus is in the right place.

What can your PMO expect from a project manager and product manager?

We can see that both roles are different but can be complementary. You may also decide that a project only needs one or the other. If this is the case, you need to know what your expectations of each role can be.

A project manager is there to make sure business goals are met – usually related to time and money. A product manager is there to ensure that the client gets the product that they want and have paid for.

The difference between a project and product manager

The difference between a project manager and a product manager is the questions they resolve. A project manager will focus on the process of getting a project delivered, while a product manager will focus on the product and ensuring it meets the project requirements.