Product Manager vs. Project Manager: what’s the difference?

by Outcry May 18, 2020
product manager vs. project manager

The complexity of business and its recurring changes have segregated the workforce into more and more specialized categories.

In small organizations, it is customary for one person to perform multiple jobs.

However, if you are one of the 60 million people in the US employed at a large organization, you’ll often find roles that sound the same, but are quite different. One of those being the product manager vs. project manager. 

So what are the differences between a product manager vs. project manager? 

At a high level, a product manager decides the evolutionary trajectory of a plan and the project manager is responsible for aligning resources in order for that plan to be successfully executed.

The following are some of the differences that clarify the product manager vs project manager debate.

Product Manager vs. Project Manager: what’s the difference?

The W’s

The product manager deals with WHAT and WHY. What is the product? What will be its introductory benefits in the market? Why should it be needed in the market?

Thus, a complete vision of the product is presented by a product manager. They understand the users’ needs and bring innovative ideas to the project team.

While the project manager goes with WHEN and HOW. When is the best time for the execution of a project? This involves the overall lifecycle of the product. How to execute this project? It involves the execution within the time frame and overall management of the budget. Basically, they are responsible for bringing the vision of the product manager to life.

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Strategic vs. technical

The product manager makes decisions according to the needs of the customers and ensures all relevant departments are in sync with their idea. They play a strategic role, making difficult choices. Constant thought is given to the end-users who are the ones that will either keep the product alive or let it die. 

A product manager is responsible for the marketing and strategic development of the product. They analyze market gaps and use customer feedback to continuously improve the product. This role mostly demands individuals with a marketing or business background. However, in engineering organizations, they can require a technical background as well. 

A project manager typically has more of a technical role. They have to bring the vision to an end. So they are responsible for making sure milestones are met, timelines are followed and the budget is maintained. They control the entire team of designers, developers, and everyone involved in that project.

Continuous product improvement

As previously mentioned, a product manager is involved in the marketing of their particular product. However, their job doesn’t end at the introduction of products in the market. The product manager has to continue to bring new ideas of innovation to make the product more successful and keep up with marketing campaigns. They have to make decisions based on the feedback of their customers and market competition.

After the introduction of the product in the market, the job of a project manager is done. They can move onto the next project for its timely execution.


Even after the launch of a new product, the product manager is still busy with marketing campaigns to ensure their product sales grow.  They have to attend industry events, gather customer feedback, and run different usability tests. The product manager often meets with the marketing and sales teams to ensure goals are aligned and their product continues to get support from cross-functional teams.  

A project manager on the other hand only coordinates with the product, technical, and engineering team to manufacture the product according to the requirements.

Communication with stakeholders

A product manager has to convince the stakeholders to invest in the execution of their vision. Investors are usually interested in getting to know the projected return on their investment to cater if it is a viable option of not. The product manager is there to convince them with statistics about projected revenue, market share, and brand recognition.

A project manager keeps the expectations of the stakeholder while manufacturing the product. They are connected with the stakeholders as far as the outcome of the project is concerned.


Today’s organizations need both innovative ideas and execution of those ideas to lead them to the top. Both of the product manager and project manager roles are vital for the success or failure of a company.

By joining powers together, they can create a tremendously successful project. 

Are you a product manager or project manager? If so, what are some other differences you’ve seen between the two roles? 

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