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Product manager vs project manager: differences & similarities

Last updated

23 March 2023

Reviewed by

Tanya Williams

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The terms "product manager" and "project manager" can be confusing because they are associated with managing projects and products but have different responsibilities and approaches. Both roles are important for ensuring the success of a project or product, but the skills and duties required for each manager are distinct.

What is a product manager?

A product manager oversees a product's development and lifecycle, from inception to removal from the market. 

What does a product manager do?

Some of the key responsibilities of a product manager include:

  • Conducting market research to identify customer needs and pain points

  • Defining the product vision and strategy

  • Creating a product roadmap that outlines the launch and delivery of new products or features

  • Working with cross-functional teams such as design, engineering, and sales, to bring the product to market

  • Prioritizing and managing the product backlog to ensure development is aligned with the product roadmap

  • Making data-driven decisions using metrics like customer feedback and market trends

  • Ensuring that the product meets financial and business goals

  • Communicating the product vision and strategy to stakeholders

A product manager is responsible for bringing a successful product to market that meets the needs of customers and key stakeholders while achieving the business objectives.

Requirements to become a product manager

Becoming a product manager requires education, work experience, and skills. Here are some requirements for this role:

  1. Education - A bachelor's degree in business, engineering, computer science, or a related field is often required.

  2. Work experience - Most product managers have years of experience in a related field, such as software development, marketing, or project management.

  3. Technical skills - Knowledge of software development processes, data analysis, and familiarity with agile methodology is vital for a product manager.

  4. Leadership skills - Product managers need strong leadership skills to communicate their vision, influence others, and make decisions that benefit the product and the business.

  5. Communication skills: Product managers need excellent written and verbal communication skills to effectively communicate their vision, product strategy, and the value proposition of their products.

  6. Problem-solving skills: Product managers should be able to identify problems, analyze data and information, and develop creative solutions to bring a successful product to market.

In addition to these requirements, many product managers also pursue certifications in product management, such as the certified product manager (CPM) or the product development and management association (PDMA) certification.

Challenges of being a product manager

Being a product manager can be a rewarding but challenging role. Some of the common challenges faced by product managers include the following:

  • Balancing conflicting priorities between customers, stakeholders, and the business to create a successful product for all involved parties

  • Making data-driven decisions using analytics about the product in an ever-changing market

  • Adapting to the constantly changing technology and market landscape 

  • Managing limited resources, such as budget, time, and personnel

Despite these challenges, product management can be gratifying for individuals who are passionate about creating successful products and comfortable navigating complex and changing environments.

What is a project manager?

A project manager is responsible for planning, organizing, and directing the completion of a specific short-term project. 

What does a project manager do?

A project manager oversees and leads all aspects of a project. They perform tasks such as:

  • Defining project scope, goals, and deliverables

  • Creating project plans and schedules

  • Assembling and leading a project team

  • Managing project budget and resources

  • Monitoring project progress and making necessary adjustments

  • Communicating project status to stakeholders 

  • Identifying and mitigating project risks

  • Ensuring the project is finalized on time, within budget, and to stakeholders' satisfaction.

The project manager plays an integral role in ensuring that the project is delivered successfully and meets the expectations of all stakeholders.

Requirements to become a project manager

The specific requirements to become a project manager can vary depending on the project, but these are the general requirements:

  • Education: Many employers prefer a bachelor's degree in a relevant field such as business, engineering, or information technology.

  • Work experience: Years of work experience in a related field are usually required, with increasingly responsible roles and experience managing projects of increasing scope and complexity.

  • Strong leadership and communication skills: Project managers must lead teams, make decisions, and communicate effectively with stakeholders at all levels.

  • Problem-solving and decision-making abilities: Project managers must know how to identify and solve problems and make decisions quickly and effectively in a fast-paced environment.

Note that some employers may accept alternative combinations of education, experience, and certifications for project management roles.

Project manager challenges

Project managers often face numerous challenges in their day-to-day work; some of the common ones are:

  • Identifying and assessing risks, developing contingency plans, and continuously monitoring and mitigating risks throughout the project lifecycle

  • Motivating and leading the team, managing conflicts, and keeping team members focused on the project goals

  • Ensuring the project deliverables meet the required quality standards for stakeholders' satisfaction

  • Managing stakeholder expectations and ensuring they are aligned with the project goals and objectives

Although being a project manager can be challenging, the role can be rewarding because it offers creativity, problem-solving, and leadership opportunities.

Is there any overlap between product and project managers?

There can be some overlap between product and project managers, as both roles involve overseeing and managing initiatives that bring a product or service to market.

In some organizations, a single individual may fulfill both roles, especially for smaller projects. While in larger organizations, the two roles may be separate and distinct.

Can you handle both roles at the same time?

An individual can handle both product and project management responsibilities, depending on the size and complexity of the organization and the projects involved.

In such cases, the person would need to have a strong understanding of product and project management methodologies and the ability to balance and prioritize tasks effectively. 

How do product managers and project managers work together?

Product and project managers often collaborate to bring a product from conception to market. Both roles work together to prioritize features, allocate resources, and manage stakeholder expectations.

Good collaboration between product and project managers can lead to a successful product launch and ongoing success.

Becoming a product manager vs. project manager

Becoming a product manager or a project manager requires different skills, experiences, and qualifications. 

1. Career paths for product managers and project managers

For product managers, the career progression is from a junior or associate product manager to a senior product manager, then to a director of product management, and eventually to a chief product officer or a similar executive role.

For project managers, the career path is from a junior or assistant project manager to a senior project manager, then to a program manager, portfolio manager, or project management office (PMO) manager. 

2. Skills for a product manager and project manager

Product and project managers need strong leadership and interpersonal skills and the ability to think creatively and adapt to changing circumstances. Additionally, they both need to be highly organized, results-driven, and able to work well under pressure to meet tight deadlines.

3. Certifications for a product manager and project manager

For product managers, popular certifications include:

  • Certified Product Manager (CPM) from the Association of International Product Management and Marketing (AIPMM)

  • Product Management Certificate (PMC) from the Pragmatic Institute

  • Product Management Certificate from the University of California, Berkeley

Certifications for project managers include:

Certifications can demonstrate commitment and expertise in the field. However, they are not the only factor in securing a job or advancing a career.

Product manager vs. project manager: 4 key differences

Product and project managers are two distinct roles with different responsibilities, skill sets, and objectives. Here are four key differences between the two:

1. Responsibilities

Product managers are responsible for defining and driving the product strategy and bringing a product to market. Project managers oversee the planning, execution, and closing of projects within scope, time, and budget constraints.

2. Skills

Product managers need a mix of technical, business, and leadership skills, as well as a strong understanding of market trends and customer needs. Project managers require strong project management skills, experience leading cross-functional teams, and a good understanding of project management methodologies and tools.

3. Certifications

Product management certifications focus on developing the knowledge and skills required to be an effective product manager, including customer research, market analysis, product development, and product positioning.

Project management certifications are designed to validate a project manager's knowledge and experience in managing projects. They focus on project management methodologies, processes, tools, and techniques.

4. Salary

Product managers may earn an average salary ranging from $90,000 to $140,000 per year, depending on their experience level and the company size.

A project manager’s average salary may range from $75,000 to $120,000 per year, depending on their industry, company size, and experience level.


Can the project manager and product manager be the same person?

Yes, the project manager and product manager can be the same person in some organizations. However, it is common in larger organizations to have separate individuals for these roles as they have distinct responsibilities and focus areas.

Can a project manager become a product manager?

Yes, a project manager can become a product manager. The skills and experience gained from managing projects can be valuable in a product management role.

Who gets paid more, the product manager or the project manager?

Product managers earn higher salaries than project managers, as product management is often considered a higher-level role requiring more strategic thinking and decision-making responsibilities.

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