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Academy Xi Blog

Product Management versus Project Management

By Academy Xi

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It’s not uncommon for confusion to arise when it comes to Product and Project Management. Both disciplines are often abbreviated to ‘PM’, they share a range of common skills and there is a crossover between their functions, however, the responsibilities are very different. 

Let’s wade in and try to establish some clarity.

At a glance:

  • The fundamental difference
  • What is product management & what does a Product Manager do?
  • What is project management & what does a Project Manager do?
  • So, what do these roles have in common?
  • Agile Scrum Methodology – at a glance
  • Top picks for software
  • Are Product Managers and Project Managers in-demand?
  • How much can you earn as a Product Manager or Project Manager?
  • How can I become a Product Manager or Project Manager?

The fundamental difference 

Essentially product managers manage products, project managers manage projects.

Where one is high level and strategy focused, the other is a driver of specific tasks.

  • Product Managers define high level goals and objectives and then create a comprehensive strategy.
  • Project Managers oversee the resourcing and scheduling of the approved strategy to enable the elements to ‘get done’. 

There’s a bit more to it than this top line summary of difference, so let’s dig into the details.

What is Product Management & what does a Product Manager do? 

The organisational function responsible for a product’s overall success is known as Product Management.

Product Managers are at the intersection of all individuals, teams and stakeholders involved in what is known as the ‘lifecycle’ of a product. 

Product Managers:

  • discover the challenges and needs of their customers via research
  • define a product vision, meeting the customer needs and reflecting business goals
  • ensure the product concept aligns with market needs to confirm viability 
  • create a comprehensive strategy to build solutions that satisfy all of these elements
  • continually improve on existing products using data-driven insights.

Each step from coming up with the idea and designing the strategy, through to delivering it to market and making ongoing improvements is driven by the Product Manager. They devise and maintain the product roadmap to align all involved in the journey – it is a highly collaborative role. The key to this gig is always being a passionate advocate for the customer – their needs must be at the heart of the entire process. 

What is Project Management & what does a Project manager do?

Where Product Management is functioning on a strategic level, Project Management is all about organising and guiding the completion of specific tasks that exist within the overarching strategy.

The role of the Project Manager doesn’t come into play until the strategy (as defined and created by the Product Manager) has been approved. 

Once off the starting blocks, the Project Manager is a vital element in ensuring the plan goes smoothly. They are responsible for: 

  • Scoping out each project element
  • Overall scheduling of these initiative timelines
  • Allocating resources across all projects (time, budget, staffing)
  • Being aware of any significant risks prior to project commencing
  • Executing the elements of the project plans
  • Monitoring and tracking the project process 
  • Regular communication to all relevant stakeholders about overall progress.

Key attributes of a great Project Manager include fantastic communication skills, time management prowess and strong leadership qualities. 

What do these roles have in common?

Product Manager in a meeting with colleague

It’s safe to say that well-tuned soft skills are a necessity for both Product and Project Managers. 

Most importantly, effective communication skills are required as they deal with a wide variety of stakeholders both in house and externally to the organisation they are supporting. 

Being adept at developing one-on-one relationships with team members, while simultaneously building team cohesion is quite a skill and hugely benefits both of these roles  – the focus being on creating a team culture that fosters open communication, respect and empathy. 

Skills of persuasion are also integral as they will often need to get ‘buy-in’ from teams and individuals that they do not directly manage. This can be quite a challenge when you’re needing people to deliver specifics to get the job done. 

Agile Scrum Methodology – at a glance

Agile Scrum Methodology is a popular project management system that takes a sprint-based approach, working to the goal of delivering the best possible outcome and value to all stakeholders. It is a system used by both Product and Project Managers alike.

  • What is Scrum?

A framework that enables effective collaboration among teams working together on complex projects or products. This approach can benefit any team working toward a common goal.

  • What is Agile?

A process that allows teams to more efficiently manage a project by breaking it down into several stages, with stakeholder feedback gathered to improve at each increment.

By working in two to four week ‘sprints’, stakeholder feedback is gathered and integrated into the next sprint, where appropriate. This enables the product or service to develop quickly and reflect the needs of the stakeholders, compared to other project management methods that build an entire product or service in only one stage – from beginning to delivery – which is slower and may not deliver the same business value.

Top picks for software

There are many software options on the market, with most being some version of an online collaborative app where anyone working on a project can see what they’re supposed to do and when and enable you to record progress on your assigned tasks. They give an overview of the project and can show if it’s on target to meet budget and timeline requirements.

Here are a few examples of specific software that is currently popular with both product and project managers in collaborating with teams and hitting deadlines. While there isn’t any Product Management specific software, there are features in Jira that are particularly suitable for Product Managers such as Advanced Roadmaps.

Product Management Tools logos: TeamGantt, Jira, Asana, Monday.com
  • Jira: Plan, track, release and report with this widely popular project product management software.
  • Asana: Track, manage and connect your projects across any team. This platform enables all stakeholders to discuss work in one place.
  • Monday.com: Plan, organise and track your team’s work in one place on this highly visual and intuitive platform.
  • TeamGantt: Project planning software that brings gantt charts online. You can plan, schedule and manage projects with this free software and invite clients and teams to collaborate.

Are Product and Project Managers in-demand?

In short, yes!

Overall, the global economy has become more project-oriented – this is largely due to digital transformation and the requirement for most industries to get online and have tech based solutions to meet market demands, lest they be left behind. 

Industries that were previously less project-oriented are now requiring digital services and products, particularly in health care (hello COVID) and professional services.

There is an increasing gap worldwide between employers’ needs for both skilled product and project managers and the availability of professionals to fill those positions.

Product Management positions are particularly challenging to fill due to the diverse skills and capabilities required and has one of the fastest growing skills gaps in Australia. (1)

When it comes to project management, the labor force is expected to grow 33 percent across 11 countries by 2027, with employers needing nearly 88 million individuals in project management roles worldwide.(2)

How much can you earn as a Product Manager or Project Manager?

Amongst the highest paid roles in tech across Australia and the United States (3), the current average Project and Product Manager salaries come in at $120,000 AUD (4) (5). Those with more experience in these roles can take home in excess of $150,000 a year. (4/5). 

How can I become a Product manager or Project Manager?

Getting the right training under your belt is a strong start to establishing your career as a Product or Project Manager. 

Ideally, you want to study a course which offers you as much practical experience as possible. Training which includes working on real-world projects is an added bonus, as you will be putting your new skills to the test on something that’s personally relevant to you or your business. 

Academy Xi offers industry focused courses in both Product Management and Project Management, with a focus on digital to ensure that you are job ready by graduation. Class sizes are small, socially engaged and guided by industry experts.

We offer the following courses in Product and Project Management: 

Check out the upcoming course intake dates for all of our online courses. 

I’ve managed a lot of traditional/ offline projects. Should I still upskill?

Without a doubt, gaining digital-specific project management skills is a great investment in your future. Academy Xi offers industry focused part-time, online courses to elevate your skills to the next level. Designed and taught by passionate industry experts, the training will empower you to stay ahead of the industry curve. Discover more by reading our blog post ‘5 reasons to invest in upskilling’

Product Management review at Academy Xi