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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

Academy Xi Blog

The Product Manager Mini-CEO & the Skills Needed to Succeed

By Academy Xi

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Defining product management

To put it simply, product management is about solving real problems for real people. Notice that the ‘real’ is emphasised, because time and time again entrepreneurs go on a journey to solve a problem that is not real, for people who are also not real.

But how are people and problems not real?

What’s an unreal problem?

The problem is usually imagined by the entrepreneur: maybe they directly experience it, but maybe they experience it alone. Or, there could be a lack of context (For example, if the problem they’re trying to solve is part of something bigger that their solution is not yet tackling).

This happens all the time, especially in startup land. It’s a large contributor to that 90 percent failure statistic that is drummed into entrepreneurs right from the start.

What’s an unreal person?

For example, when the CEO of a startup is also the startup’s first customer, their problem is their problem alone. And it’s initially up to them to discover if this problem is faced by others. The CEO can’t solve this problem without help and that’s where the mini-CEO comes in: the product manager.

The mini-CEO

No product manager is the same and no pathway to the role is the same. Product managers come from all walks of life, starting out their career in marketing, engineering and even hospitality…who would have thought?

So, why does product management attract people with different traits and skill sets?

The product manager is also known as the mini-CEO and that’s because, like the CEO, they need to be multidisciplinary and sit within the centre of all activity. They’re like the glue that sticks products to customers and customers to products.

The skills to succeed

One of the best pieces of advice a product manager can learn is: ideas are fragile. Ideas can whither right after they sprout, and it takes a special kind of person with a particular set of skills to nurture and grow them from idea to product.

Allen Jiang, product manager at Qantas Assure, talks about the skills not commonly associated with product managers—but skills that are crucially necessary. These skills are soft skills, and are undeniably the most important skills to have when managing a team and performing as the mini-CEO.

1. Communication

“One of the key drivers of a good product manager is being able to take an idea all the way from conception to being built,” says Allen. “If you think about that as an important part of the process then you think about everything that’s needed to enable that.”

What enables the ideation process? Allen believes it’s good communication.

“It’s being able to convey that idea and “sell that vision” to get people to see what that idea is and how it will work.”

2. Creativity

Allen explains that there are many different ways to solve a problem and a product manager needs to think outside the box and continually questioning what’s working and what’s not.

“Creativity goes so far as to question: ‘What is the right problem to solve?’”

“There are certain problems you’re trying to solve and build for the end user and there are creative ways to do that. It doesn’t mean you have to do it the way you originally thought. You need to find a different, smarter solution for doing things, and all those things can be creative.”

3. Honesty

Allen explains that if you’re not being transparent with your team, you’re not being productive.

“At Qantas Assure, we’re a very cohesive unit because we’re always very open and honest about things. When things go wrong, people own it. It’s never the case of trying to hide something; it’s about making people responsible.”

4. Collaboration

Allen admits that some of his best ideas have come from random conversations he’s had with people around the office, and those people have had nothing to do with the product.

“I’ll go to a member of a different team and we’ll just chit-chat by the kitchen. We’ll just talk about random things and then instantly you get an idea for how you can improve your product.”

5. Risk Taking

An entrepreneurial trait that overlaps into the product manager is risk taking. Even in the day-to-day, Allen says product managers are taking risks.

“The primary factor is, as a product manager, you don’t have a lot of information to work with. For a startup, you have very little customers, and you have very little data. It just so happens that in those times, when you have little data, you need your product to evolve.”

“The risk you take is that every day you’re unsure if you’re making the right decisions. Of course you do things to try to increase your probability of success, such as user testing and research, but at the end of the day, you can never be 100 percent sure of your product.”

Learn more about what it takes to become a Product Manager here.

Academy Xi Blog

5 Easy Ways to Move Up in a Product Manager Role

By Pia Marsh

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When it comes to a career in Product Management, the opportunities are limitless.

A Product Management team is often regarded as the talent pool from which a company’s future executives are drawn, and rightly so, as few roles force an understanding of the full business as much as a Product Manager.

So what exactly is a Product Manager?

Product Managers manage every moment of the product’s lifecycle, taking the idea from the executive level and guiding it through conception and development. Boasting impressive market and customer knowledge, PM professionals are perhaps some of the best seated in the house to assume leadership roles. Add to this the ongoing collaborative work and exposure to the worlds of sales, finance and marketing, PM’s are well equipped with the multi-disciplinary skills that are required for a promotion.

While the career options available to a product manager are constantly evolving and expanding, a Product Manager typically progresses in four stages:

  • Senior Product Manager: managing and grooming one or more junior PM.
  • Head of Product: Manage a portfolio of products and PM/Senior PM’s.
  • VP of Product: Senior responsible for the rest of the executive team, representing product/market/company success rather than a measure of one specific function.
  • CEO: Head responsible in charge of leading cross-functional teams from a product’s conception through to its launch. Usually experienced and expert in all aspects of the business, from strategy to ideation and market analysis.

Here are 5 easy steps to help you advance in the industry: 

1. Master your trade

Good product managers know their market, the product, the product line and their competition extremely well. They work in confidence and with a strong skill set behind them, based on well founded knowledge and experience. A good Product Manager measures themselves in terms of the success of the product rather than counting losses. Often considered “a jack of all trades”, a good PM has a unique value, based on an all-round expertise. When it comes to Product Management, no knowledge is invaluable, so take the opportunity to learn new skills with elation.

2. Be the boss of the product

Live and breathe your product. Use it yourself, test it out on other people, ask for feedback. Be passionate in a way that is both convincing and inspiring. Better yet, be genuine. Anticipate the flaws and build solutions. Practice the company pitch until you know it better than anyone. Recruit talent when needed, and give credit accordingly.

3. Skip the excuses

A good Product Manager takes initiative. A bad manager has a lot of excuses. Volunteer your help for the hard stuff, even if it isn’t directly transcribed in your job description. Manage the product team and give formal direction.

4. Work on leadership

A key factor in moving up the Product Manager career ladder is how you manage people. Are you an experienced people person? Do you have a track record of leadership and can you coach people to work better than they already do? The career progression of a product manager naturally points to leadership roles. Managing large portfolios comes with greater responsibility, so the ability mentor, communicate and hire executive talent effectively is crucial.

5. Ask for feedback

Perhaps an obvious one, but important nonetheless. Seek out your peers, VP’s, customers and other stakeholders and ask them where you can improve. Address your weaknesses and build on your strengths. Share your ambitions and then ask for advice on how to achieve them.

Where to start?

Larger companies with one or more large product portfolios usually offer the most progression. However, with the start-up industry booming, many junior Product Managers choose to head in the direction of a start-up they are passionate about. Passion speaks wonders, and picking a product you adore can make all the difference. If you’re just breaking into the industry, or developing an existing skill-set, formal training in product management  best practices can really help.

The Takeaway

A career in Product Management can see you doing anything from liaising with customers to determining creative strategy. Be explicit in your actions, project positivity and focus on what’s important and you’ll be well on your way to a promotion.

Learn how to understand what it takes to drive the product vision from ideation to reality with our range of Product Management courses here.

Academy Xi Blog

The Digital Marketing Funnel

By Academy Xi

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The internet has revolutionised marketing. Therefore, the way brands connect with customers has also changed. A brand’s relationship with a customer no longer ends after they’ve completed a purchase — that’s only half of it.

The classic marketing funnel was straightforward, accounting for the buyer’s journey with a brand through the AIDA model:

  • Awareness: marketing that creates brand awareness for a target audience.
  • Interest: campaigns that generate interest that encourages potential customers to do more research.
  • Desire: establishing a connection with the buyer to make them want the product or service.
  • Action: encouraging the buyer to engage with the brand.

The AIDA model above is designed to lead customers through a sales funnel and considers the buyer’s first contact with your brand down to the point of sale.

In the past, the ‘Action’ stage would be represented by a buyer’s purchase of product or service. Now, the AIDA model is used by marketers as more of a communication model.

According to Smart Insights, the AIDA model assists brands in knowing how and when to Engage with buyers, which platforms to use, and the kind of information the brand should provide.

But then stepped in the new wave of marketing: the digital marketing funnel.

 

The new digital marketing funnel

The push for traditional marketing to evolve has been driven by technological advancements, but also through the rise of social media. It is believed that we are bombarded with over 10,000 messages a day. For brands to cut through the noise, it’s in their best interest to foster a strong relationship with consumers even long after the buyer has made a purchase.

Thus the new digital marketing funnel expands the AIDA model to consider this new brand and buyer relationship:

Top of the Funnel (ToFu)

At the top of the digital marketing funnel, are leads or potential customers that visit or engage with a site. At this stage, the main objective is to attract and capture their interest. Objectives for brands at ToFu include:

  1. Engagementcreate awareness through content on social media platforms. This is also typically how people discover new brands.
  2. Education: release content that educates buyers about the brand, including content that addresses pain points and offers solutions.
  3. Research: brands provide informative content that helps with the buyer’s purchasing decision rather than just pushing a sales message.

 

Middle of the Funnel (MoFu)

When potential customers further develop a relationship with a product or brand, they are considered at the middle of the funnel. Here, they may engage with a brand on social media, attend company events, or seek further information about their products and services.

  1. Evaluation: a straightforward way of presenting the brand as a provider of a specific solution. Typically, comparisons with competing brands are provided.
  2. Justification: addressing a buyer’s objections, obstacles, and inertia that keeps them from making a purchase. 

Bottom of the Funnel (BoFu)

The final segment of the funnel is known as the bottom of the funnel where potential customers are likely to convert into paying customers. At this stage, they become advocates after having established a strong connection with a product and brand.

  1. Purchase: provide support to the customer by answering questions to boost confidence with the product or service.
  2. Adoption: communication should continue to flow seamlessly between the brand and the buyer, with brands providing advantages and directions on how to use a product or service.
  3. Retention: through consistent high-value communication, brands continue to leave customers with high satisfaction.
  4. Expansionat this stage, brands will be able to upsell higher-end products and premium services, as well as sell products and services that complement what customers have previously purchased.
  5. Advocacy: encouraging loyal customers to become brand advocates helps nurture the brand with future customers.

The digital marketing funnel puts the buyer first, considers their needs, and directs the brand to create campaigns that meet those needs.

By understanding the different stages of a robust digital marketing strategy, it is also crucial that brands are able to iterate and improve their efforts through the ability to measure success.

 

The Pirate Metrics 

According to 500Startups co-founder Dave McClure, there are 5 key metrics of which marketers should focus on to measure their marketing efforts. Marketers can use these metrics as key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess the effectiveness of their campaigns at any specific stage of the digital marketing funnel.

Acquisition: In the acquisition stage, brands measure a person’s first contact with a product or website. Initially, this can be measured by unique views. For websites, this can also be measured by bounce rates.

Activation: Activation refers to the product or service use. How many of the people you’ve acquired and engaged with actually use your product? Measuring what constitutes an activated user or buyer depends on the product or service offered, or the brand itself.

Retention: You want people to come back for more, not just use your product or service once. How often they return varies, and you can choose according to what is appropriate for your brand.

Referrals: How many users ended up advocating for your product, and how many people did they bring in? You can measure according to how many views or people inquiring about your brand, or how many a customer referred and ended up being customers themselves.

Revenue: Measuring revenue isn’t just about the total profit, but also considering the LTV (lifetime value) of a customer. The LTV metric is why there are 4 other stages or metrics that are crucial to measure before revenue.

 

Lead generation tactics for the digital marketing funnel

Marketing is no longer simply launching a campaign and obtaining once-off purchases from buyers. It’s a long game, that if done correctly can generate rewarding results for businesses. Avinash Kaushik’s See-Think-Do-Care Model gives strategy suggestions depending on where the buyer is at on the digital marketing funnel.

At the top of the funnel during the Engagement or Acquisition stages brands can employ:

  • Social media: it’s an effective, low-cost strategy for this stage because people use social media to engage with their friends and family, and find social proof for products and brands.
  • PPC display ads: you want your brand to be seen, even through subliminal messaging for your target market.

When customers are in the middle of the funnel, during the Research, Evaluation or Justification stages brands can use:

  • SEO: aimed at helping boost the organic search results for a brand, which will support prospects who are seeking to make more informed choices about their purchases.
  • Video marketing: YouTube is the second largest search engine, and video is the preferred form of content.

At the bottom of the funnel, during the Purchasing stage, marketers can use:

  • Email marketing: you want to nudge your customers to make a purchase, and then nurture them for repeat business. Email allows you to personalise your marketing efforts too.

 

Marketing automation

Now that you know what to do, why do it, and how to measure your success, the last step is execution.

There’s a lot that needs to be done and done well. How do you balance your time or your marketing team’s resources when there are 10 stages to the buyer’s journey, each requiring different strategies to be implemented?

This is where marketing automation comes in.

Marketing automation, according to Hubspot, “refers to the software that exists with the goal of automating marketing actions.” It is often done for repetitive tasks like email marketing and social media posting.

Here’s how you get started on automating some of your marketing tasks:

  • Identify the repetitive tasks. These lend well to marketing automation because you can find software as a service (SaaS) options that will help you publish or post at optimum times without manually doing it yourself every time.
  • Prepare content beforehand. When you have automated systems in place, you can set aside a time block to create content for the upcoming week or even month. This ensures you have something well-crafted to put out when necessary.
  • Segment your audience. Not everyone will be on the same stage of the buyer’s journey, and you need to be able to quickly assess and respond to them appropriately. Segmenting keeps you on track on who’s where on the sales marketing funnel.
  • Personalise your content and campaigns. Establishing a connection with the buyer encourages loyalty to your brand. Remember that you are communicating with people who like communicating with other people.

Some common tools used to automate tasks in your digital marketing funnel include:

  • Mailchimp or Drip for emails
  • Zapier
  • Buzzsumo
  • Buffer or MeetEdgar
  • Marketo
  • Pardot (Salesforce) 

The shift to an expanded marketing funnel compared with the classic AIDA model has accommodated our current area of digital disruption, but this is by no means the end of this marketing shift.

Experts predict that the future of marketing includes Account-Based Marketing (ABM), where brands instead identify their target companies or groups, expand to decision makers, engage with them through personalised marketing plans, and convert them to advocates.

This trend essentially ‘flips the funnel’, where brands will start off with a narrow list of target entities. This targeted approach hopes to help address the problem of marketers having a hard time getting their prospect’s attention.

As brands and companies (especially B2B) start adopting the ABM approach, one thing is clear: marketers and brands need to stay on top of industry practices and adjust rapidly to changes.

Agility is key to growing your brand, and agility in marketing strategies is now more important than ever.

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Learn how to maximise your funnel’s effectiveness and drive results by developing a solid digital marketing strategy. And check out our range of digital marketing courses here.