Product Management vs. Project Management: Career Differences
By The Fullstack Academy Team
Product Management vs. Project Management: Career Differences
Product management and project management roles are often thought of as identical. This misperception is reinforced by the fact that both product managers and project managers are commonly referred to as PMs. However, a deep-dive review of product manager vs. project manager careers reveals important differences.
The primary distinction between these roles is that a product manager is focused on product strategy, while project managers are responsible for the tactical execution of tasks and projects. This is not to say that a product manager does not participate in project initiatives or that project managers do not contribute to the success of products. Individuals in these roles interact regularly in their work.
Knowing the difference between a product manager and a project manager is important for anyone interested in pursuing a career in either field. Both roles can present rewarding opportunities, and a better understanding of each can help individuals determine which path is right for them.
What Does a Product Manager Do?
Each product management role may vary in responsibility and focus. For example, a product manager in a technology company may focus on digital products for individual and business use—from software and apps to websites. Product managers working for a consumer goods manufacturer may develop physical items for personal use, such as food and beverages, clothing, or electronics.
Despite this variety, product managers across industries share some common responsibilities:
Understanding user needs. This entails surveying an existent customer base to identify what they need or want in a product.
Evaluating ideas. Those involved in the development process can improve a product with ideas that meet the needs of customers and can compete in today’s marketplace
Developing competitive analyses. Determining what the competition is doing can help products meet user demand.
Defining a vision for a product. What a product becomes is largely dependent on the vision the product manager defines for it.
Building and sharing strategic roadmaps. Getting from ideation to the final product involves multiple steps that must be mapped out for effective execution.
Prioritizing product features. Every idea for a product feature should be considered, but only what’s feasible from a financial and resource standpoint can be prioritized.
Defining product releases. This responsibility determines the time frame for releasing different iterations of a product.
What Does a Project Manager Do?
Product managers do not work alone in bringing products to market. In fact, project managers are key to the success of products, since they’re the ones who execute the vision set out by product managers.
Project managers establish the steps needed to bring a product from idea to market. They also establish processes and use tools to help ensure collaboration and communication between the stakeholders involved in the project. For example, rolling out a new software update or building a new facility involves many steps carried out by different groups.
In the case of a software update, the marketing team may define the requirements for product improvements. But it’s up to the engineers and programmers to develop and test the code to ensure the software works as it should. This is a complex process with multiple stages. Project managers help ensure that handoffs between teams are as seamless and orderly as possible to meet budget requirements and timelines.
While building a facility involves a vastly different set of equipment—like cranes and power tools—the focus for project managers remains the same: to keep the project moving forward to completion. Some of the most common project manager responsibilities include:
Project planning. Project managers provide guidance on how to complete a project within a specified time frame using defined resources.
Defining project scope. A part of project planning involves documenting goals, deliverables, stages, budgets, and deadlines.
Assembling and leading teams. Putting together the necessary resources and providing leadership and guidance throughout the project are essential to success.
Additional responsibilities include defining tasks, management (of time, budget, resources, and risks), project monitoring, and reporting.
Similarities and Differences Between Product Management and Project Management
Product managers and project managers often work closely together with shared responsibilities. Product and project managers can collaborate on project documentation, sometimes using a shared document. Individuals in both roles also regularly communicate with stakeholders and clients (often one and the same). In management roles, both have a responsibility for keeping track of progress, primarily through reporting.
However, diving deeper into the comparison reveals key differences. For instance, a product manager is responsible for aligning a product’s features and business objectives with customer and market needs. They focus on high-level activities such as setting the overall vision, developing the strategy, and identifying and prioritizing requirements. The output of a product manager is a successful product.
In contrast, project managers oversee projects from start to finish. Their focus is on organizing internal product development processes to ensure that the project follows a timeline and a budget. The final output of a project manager is the successful completion of a project.
Product Management vs. Project Management: Salary and Job Growth
What can product managers and project managers expect in terms of salary and job growth?
The projected growth for the role of product manager over the next 10 years is 11.6%, which is significantly faster than the average annual growth rate of 4% for all occupations, according to September 2022 data from Lightcast™. The median annual salary for product managers varies depending on experience. For example, the median annual salary for an entry-level product manager is $81,900, while a professional with more than nine years of experience can earn about $114,500.
Variables such as location can impact salary, too. For example, the median annual salary for an entry-level product manager in the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward metro area is $100,300, according to Lightcast™. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, it’s $84,400.
As for the role of project manager, the national median annual salary is $98,420. But earning potential can vary based on where the job is located. In New York, the median annual salary for project managers is $111,890, while in Ohio, it’s $85,740, according to May 2021 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As for the future of project management jobs, the BLS projects employment to grow by 7% from 2021 to 2031.
Advance Your Skills to Help Drive Business Forward
The ability to leverage data insights can help set businesses apart. This is why, in addition to core product and project management skills, individuals interested in pursuing either of these career paths should also be able to analyze data and market research to inform decisions.
The right bootcamp can offer a range of skills to help individuals prepare for a career in product management or project management. In just 12 weeks, SJSU’s online Product Management Bootcamp helps students establish foundational knowledge and skills in data and market research, user experience design, product marketing, and software development.
Discover how this intensive program can prepare you to develop the products that could shape our future.