Product management and project management are two of today’s fastest-growing roles. Harvard and Cornell are among the business schools that have added product management curriculums to meet demand from students. Meanwhile, the Project Management Institute predicts that employers will need 88 million people in project management roles by 2027.

Job growth for both roles exceeds the average pace. But if you’re wondering what the difference is between product management and project management, you’re not alone.

These terms are often conflated, especially in small businesses that have minimal time, resources, and candidates. Employees in these organizations often do more with less and wear several hats at once.

So, it’s not unheard of for one person to serve as project manager and product manager (intentionally or not). But despite some overlap between these two roles, they serve distinctly different functions.

Project management vs. product management

Project management applies knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to an initiative with a fixed start and end date. Product management applies business strategy, feature requests, release prioritizations, and customer feedback to an ongoing lifecycle.

Projects are temporary: Products are ongoing.

Accordingly, project managers work with cross-functional teams and stakeholders to complete projects on time and under budget between fixed start and end dates. By contrast, product managers lead cross-functional teams to build and refine products with the goals of achieving high user adoption and revenue growth throughout the product lifecycle.

A product manager owns the lifecycle of a specific product. This means that they’ll also manage each unique project that relates to the product at hand (such as a project to fix bugs in a software product’s code). Although these projects have fixed start and end dates, they ultimately roll up to an ongoing product that (hopefully) sticks around.

However, this product manager might also manage separate, time-sensitive projects that have fixed start and end dates. Once those projects finish, the employee’s work is either done or they’ll start managing new projects.

Still confused? Our infographic shares some key differences and similarities between project management vs. product management.

 

Infographic showing the key differences between project management vs. product management

Which role does your small business need?

Small business owners should know the difference between project management vs. product management. Each role fulfills unique business goals, and it’s important to hire for the skill set you need most.

But whether you need someone to set strategy for your product or manage several successive projects, finding the right person has huge benefits. Project managers and product managers have been described as mini-CEOs by everyone from CIO.com to McKinsey.

Successful people in both roles excel at strategy and multi-tasking. So, they’ll be a huge asset to your small business: The trick is to know which role you should hire before you write the job spec.

Does your small business need someone to manage one or several successive projects with fixed start and end dates? Or do you need someone to own an ongoing lifecycle for a specific product? The answer to this question confirms if your business needs project management or product management.

Finding someone with the right blend of people, strategic, and management skills isn’t easy. But once you know if your small business needs project management vs. product management, you can start to hire an exceptional person.

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