PRODUCT Manager v. PROJECT Manager

I was recently asked to highlight the key differences between Product Management and Project management. While the two functions are clearly seen as different by the practitioners, the lines of responsibility can get blurred for other groups.

In reading what others had to say about the issue, I came across a post by Jeff Lash that almost perfectly captures my view on the issue:

Project managers are responsible for the successful delivery of a project — a one-time endeavor with a goal, scope, deadline, budget, and other constraints. A project manager will work to align resources, manage issues and risks, and basically coordinate all of the various elements necessary to complete the project. As they relate to products, projects can be undertaken to build a product, to add new features to a product, or create new versions or extensions of a product. When the project is complete, the project manager will usually move move to a new project, which may be related to a different product.

Product managers are responsible for the overall and ongoing success of a product. Once the project to build the product is complete and the project manager has moved on, the product manager remains to manage the product through the entire lifecycle. Other projects related to the product may be initiated, with the product manager being the one constant stream throughout, defining the project goals and guiding the team to accomplish the business objectives that have been defined.

I only thing I would change here is to amplify the responsibility of the Product Manager as the voice of the customer in the development process. In owing the product lifecycle, the Product Manager must make sure the projects that are prioritized are the ones that best solve the customer’s biggest problems. This is the most important part of the Product Manager’s job.