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Product and project managers are two very specific and important roles in a company that is often confused with each other. A large part of this confusion is because these roles often overlap, and the skills needed for the job can be very similar. Both project and product managers must be leaders, organized, and capable of juggling a few different tasks. So the question is if these roles are so similar, how are they different?

When discussing the differences between product and project managers, it’s best to view these roles as separate but closely related. This may sound confusing, but we mean that these roles are essential partners, two sides of the same coin.

So the simple answer to all this confusion is that both roles go hand in hand and, while similar, have very distinct differences. But what exactly does a product manager do differently from a project manager?

Product Managers

Before detailing what a product manager does, we should define the role. Product managers are people whose responsibility is strategically pushing product development. Essentially, the product manager will research to develop a vision for a certain product.

Once this vision is established, the product manager will then communicate this vision to the organization at large. From this point on, the product manager’s job includes meeting with stakeholders and transforming this vision into a legitimate action plan that can be used to make this vision a reality.

With this in mind, it is still essential to outline what a product manager does daily. A product manager’s responsibilities include the following:

  • Talking to users to assess requirements
  • Identifying problems
  • Identifying opportunities
  • Setting a product vision
  • Communicating this vision to stakeholders
  • Forming a strategic action plan
  • Forming and then maintaining this product roadmap
  • Overseeing development

Product managers must have a good understanding of the product and the market it pertains to. This means understanding what’s working and what isn’t when to drive a product or delay a product, and when to start over because a product is no longer economically viable. Because product managers are responsible for how well a product performs, they often work closely with the sales and marketing departments to ensure that they are hitting their revenue goals and that the product is improving customer satisfaction.

When a product is ready to go into development, after the entire roadmap has been created and communicated to the team, the product manager enlists the help of the project manager.

Project Managers

Like a product manager, a project manager can be described as an individual who is goal-oriented, organized, and passionate about their job. Once the project is underway, it becomes the project manager’s responsibility to interpret the product manager’s strategic action plan and break it down into actionable, goal-oriented steps. Doing so means that project managers must be great leaders to coordinate and delegate to accomplish these steps.

This is why the ideal project manager is an individual who enjoys challenges and driving change. They are no strangers to working under pressure, can manage it well, and can focus on the big picture and small detail.

Alongside all these other skills, a project manager must have quality people skills as much of their job involves managing others and being able to foster trust and open communication between all those involved in the creation of the product.

Project managers have an abundance of essential skills to perform their job well. That being said, what are the specific tasks that a project manager must complete daily?

The responsibilities of a project manager include the following:

  • Breaking large initiatives into smaller tasks
  • Making a project timeline
  • Allocating resources
  • Tracking task completion
  • Communicating progress
  • Completing the project on time and within the budget

Project managers must be able to wear many hats and put out fires wherever they may arise because once the project is officially underway, hurdles may arise. Things may not always go according to plan. Despite previous successes, a quality project manager is flexible and willing to adapt to the project at hand.

How Do Product Managers and Project Managers Work Together?

Once a product is in development, it’s all hands on deck. A large part of the reason product managers and project managers are often confused about each other, aside from the similar-sounding job titles, is that there is a fair bit of overlap between these positions.

Ordinarily, it might be the responsibility of a project manager to handle the tactical details involved in a product’s development. However, it is not uncommon for these responsibilities to occasionally fall in the lap of the product manager. In situations like these, product and project managers might have to work together. Inversely, there are situations in which project managers may have to tackle the strategic roles of a product manager. The reason this occurs is that both project and product managers have similar skills. They’re just applied differently. For instance, a project manager tends to be a strong problem solver, which allows them to use these problem-solving skills on a larger scale. Applying problem-solving ability to a larger scale is essentially the job of a product manager.

Another reason that product managers and project managers tend to work together by sharing tasks is that they have similar soft skills. Soft skills relate to how an individual works, specifically how they interact with others. While “hard skills” are the technical skills required to perform a job, soft skills are the behaviors and personality traits that determine interpersonal success in the workplace. Some of the skills that both product managers and project managers share that make them natural partners are: communication, the ability to listen, and organizational ability.

Can One Person Fill Both Roles?

If product and project managers have similar skills that are merely applied differently, it begs the question: why not condense the job and have one person perform both roles?

We’ve already discussed how these roles overlap, so the logical next step would be to have the product manager handle the administrative tasks before the development of the physical product and then balance both responsibilities once the groundwork has been set.

However, there are a few reasons this solution isn’t sustainable.


Bottlenecks occur when the workload is too high for the production process to manage, leading to greater inefficiency and increased production costs. In this case, having one individual perform all the tasks associated with both roles is too burdensome for an individual. Too high a workload will cause trouble, which will inevitably be the product manager’s fault.

Insufficient Skills

While these jobs have similarities, there are still skills that one person may lack and then be unable to perform should they attempt to manage both roles. For instance, product managers could lack the technical aptitude of a project manager, increasing the likelihood of time and effort being mismanaged when completing tasks.

Lack of focus

Product managers can be understood as people who work externally, meaning they spend most of their time interacting with clients, working with the sales team, and attending events. Because they’re trained to function externally, making the switch to work internally could prove challenging.

Time and effort

This point is as simple as it sounds. Having one person performing both tasks means a constant back and forth between roles, leading to production taking longer. And as we all know, time is money.

Sure, depending on the organization and scale of the product, it is entirely possible that one person can manage both jobs. However, just because they can doesn’t mean they should. Performing both jobs at once can lead to fatigue, shortsightedness regarding planning and decision-making, and inefficiency, leading to increased costs.
Ensuring a Successful Production Process

Product managers and project managers are vital to the entire production process, and despite the similarities in their skills, these are jobs that two separate individuals should perform, when the product manager and project manager can work harmoniously and understand each other’s strengths, the process smoother.