True, they sound similar and in the bigger scheme of things, a product can be seen as a project of course; but then again what isn’t a project when we look at it from that angle?

Now be careful and don’t say I didn’t warn you; don’t ever call a product manager, a project manager, they can be quite allergic to it, and for a reason. 😁

What's in here?

  • What product managers do exactly vs. what project managers do.
  • Some of the KPIs they use to do their work.
  • Their main responsibilities and who they report to.
  • How to become a product manager or project manager; requirements?

Project managers (PjM) and product managers (PdM) are, in reality, very different roles with different responsibilities. And unfortunately, many organizations don’t really understand the distinction or what it takes to do each of these jobs well, so what ends up happening is that somewhere along the line, they get blended and trouble follows.

Also, it’s usually product managers who put on their hero capes and take on project management responsibilities; much more than the other way around...

What does a product manager do?

Product managers are responsible for product development, product strategy, product marketing, product branding, and the overall success of the product they’re responsible for. What this means is that they develop requirements for new products to make sure the products align with the business objectives set out, and they take care of the existing products by monitoring progress against a set of established metrics.

What are KPIs for product management?

Based on what the objective is, whether you want to attract a new customer segment, improve your product popularity among your users, or you want to see what new features to start building, you need the right KPIs; and these KPIs will be key for building the product roadmap.

Some product management KPIs we use in Jira
Product management KPIs

In Jira, there are a few we use; you might need them, you might not. Depends!

  • Monthly recurring revenue (MRR): how subscription revenue is changing overtime.
  • Customer lifetime value (CLV): value received from a customer over time.
  • Daily/Monthly active users: active users within a time period.
  • Support tickets: overall indication of trends in customer need for support.  
  • Time in-app: how long a user spends in-app over time.
  • Stickiness: how often users engage with a product.
  • Retention rate: % of users that continue to be active/pay.
  • Churn rate: % of users that stopped being active/paying.

And so on…

I won’t go into detail about product KPIs right now, but you’ll notice a few of them coincide with marketing KPIs, like bounce rate, traffic and session duration. 🙂

What does a project manager do?

As the name suggests, project managers are responsible for managing projects. They do so from inception until completion in order to achieve a specific set of goals or targets that they set out at the start of a project. They’re also responsible for budgeting and risk assessment which means that they have key insights into how best to allocate resources within the company.

What are KPIs for project managers?

The KPIs used to measure success in a project will vary based on the type of project, and industry of course. Project management KPIs for software development will be very different from say, business consulting, but no matter your project type, all KPIs will fall into four categories:

  • Effectiveness: are money and time being spent appropriately?
  • Timeliness: is the project on time, with respect to the plan?
  • Budget: is the project under or over budget?
  • Quality: how well is the project moving forward and are customers happy?
Some project management KPIs we use in Jira
Project management KPIs

KPIs for project management are so many; I'll just mention a few we use in Jira:

  • Sprint burndown: work completed in sprint, compared to forecast.
  • Epic and release burndown: see if epic/release is on track.
  • Cumulative flow diagram: flow of work through its stages + prediction of blockers/disruptions.
  • Velocity: average work completed during sprint (hours/story points).
  • Control charts: cycle time of issues, from 'in progress' to 'done'.
  • RAG status: status of a project/tasks; RAG = Red, Amber, Green.
  • Risk: assessment of probability and impact, likelihood and consequence of risk.
  • Defects: how many there are, and how long it takes to fix them.

And so on…  

What are the key responsibilities of product managers?

The product manager is responsible for product development, product strategy and vision, and sometimes product marketing. This includes developing product requirements to ensure they meet business objectives as well as taking care of existing products by monitoring their progress against established metrics.

  • Product strategy: develop product vision, roadmap, positioning statement, or value proposition that will satisfy customer needs, while being aligned with the company's business goals/objectives.
  • Value proposition: understand the benefits offered to customers in return for paying money, including lower costs than competitor price points, better quality than elsewhere (at similar prices), increased convenience by reducing time spent doing something else and so on.
  • Product requirements:  collect them to gain input from customers, sales, marketing and product development. This requires product managers to understand business objectives as well as the technical capabilities of the product.
  • Competitive landscape: understand competitor products /services by taking a look at what they offer in terms of price points, quality and so on. It also means having knowledge about their market share which will help determine if there's room for growth within the industry.
  • Market opportunities: analyze customer needs and develop strategies that focus on meeting those needs better than other companies. For example, women spend more time than men making economic decisions for the family; actually, they drive 70-80% of all consumer purchases apparently which means that products should be tailored to address this. 🦸‍♀️
Swanly product roadmap for Jira
Product roadmap
  • Product roadmap: identify products that will drive revenue, define product features, and release roadmaps in order to meet business objectives.
  • Pricing strategy: determine product pricing which includes the cost of goods sold, market research on competitors prices, and the way customers are likely to respond to a proposed price point.
  • Brand awareness: enhance product awareness through desirable product attributes such as product availability, ease of purchase, brand identity and so on. This also requires identifying company values that shape a unique image.
Different responsibilities for product managers and project managers
Product manager vs. project manager - responsibilities

What are the key responsibilities of project managers?

The main responsibility of project managers is to organize, plan, budget and monitor the progress of a project or service to make sure it’s delivered on time. Project managers are also responsible for managing risks that could potentially affect the outcome/results of their projects.

Project managers need good communication skills because they work with a variety of internal departments such as R&D or product development, product marketing and sales.

  • Planning and scheduling: identify project requirements, tasks, and their dependencies to create a project plan. Also, carefully plan the steps required for project delivery while allocating timeframes for each of the stages to meet business objectives.
  • Meeting deadlines: prioritize activities based on their impact on meeting important milestones such as a project or product launch, or completion date, which will determine product or project success.
  • Scope: maintain product scope by keeping it within budget, identifying changes that will affect the original requirements, and managing how these additions or revisions could potentially impact other parts of the project.
  • Risk management: monitor risks that can create any potential threat to project and product development; such as changing customer needs, internal issues like product team turnover, and external factors like legislation or competitor actions.
Risk reporting in Jira with Hedge app
Risk matrix
  • Communication: communicate well product updates to the rest of the project team through meetings/presentations; this also includes communicating with project stakeholders.
  • Stakeholder management: identify stakeholders who have an interest in the product development process such as internal departments like R&D or CXO's, and external product users. Manage expectations throughout the product development process, a necessary step for avoiding unnecessary setbacks which could affect project success.
  • Budget and cost management: monitor actual costs against a project budget while identifying variances that may require approval from stakeholders before making any changes or adjustments. This also includes tracking expenses on a daily basis to ensure project success.
  • Change management: handle requests from product stakeholders to make changes in order for the project to meet their needs and expectations. Additionally, project managers would have to reallocate resources, which also requires strong leadership skills.

Who does a product manager report to?

Product managers typically report to the VP of Product or Head of Product within an organization; it depends on the reporting structure of course. In smaller companies, the Product manager may report directly to the CEO.

Who do product managers work closely with?

Product managers work closely with other teams, like engineering, QA teams, business development and sales teams, as well as product marketing, to make sure that their product meets the intended business objectives set out, as well as the needs of the customer.

Also, they’ll work closely with product marketers on product positioning, product launch planning and execution, plus the ongoing marketing activities like email campaigns or social media promotions that promote the product to target customers.

Product managers interact with product stakeholders like other product teams (internal), and product users (external).

Who does a project manager report to?

Project managers usually report to product or program managers, and they’ll interact with project stakeholders like product marketing, sales, product development teams and so on.

Also, they might answer to the C-level of their organization, like the CEO or CFO if they’re involved in large business initiatives like mergers and acquisitions (M&A) for example.

Project Managers focus on managing resource constraints that could affect product and service delivery. They are responsible for tracking budget variances and maintaining project scope during the project development process which also includes communicating potential risks or issues with project stakeholders to resolve any conflicts before they escalate into an issue.

Project managers may oversee multiple projects at a time depending on their experience level, organization size and reporting structure within.

Ways to learn product management
How to become a product manager

How do you become a product manager?

Product management is one of the best jobs to get in tech. Product managers work by combining technology, business and user experience. The position is a lot to handle and it's usually hard to fill because it requires a lot of training, proficiency in a lot of areas, and knowledge of the latest tech out there.

  • For many, the best way to learn product management is by taking a beginner's product manager certification (from Product School) - great for aspiring project managers who want to learn how to build digital products from beginning to end and lead cross-functional teams.
  • You can also solve your product challenges with Pragmatic Institute, which has a lot of resources, tools and communities to help refine your products. You get to learn some of the best practices for building and marketing products that people want to buy.
  • PDMA is an established organization with a lot of people, and camps to focus on innovation and product development. It can be a big deal when it comes to hiring, because it's usually renewed every three years.
  • You could also go through a bunch of amazing books, to teach you product management; here's a list of some of the best books on product management!

How do you become a project manager?

Being a project manager is a rewarding career; it gives you the opportunity to actually make a difference in an organization. And according to the Project Management Institute, the demand for project managers is expected to grow by 33%, i.e. 2.2 million new jobs every year until 2027.

Now, being a project manager is about a little more than just degrees and qualifications, it's a lot about developing experience.

Ways to learn project management
How to become a project manager
  • You could go through a bunch of certifications to enhance your knowledge and get experience, like the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, PRINCE2, CAPM, PMI-ACP, or other project management courses on Udemy for example.
  • You could skip some of the training and onboarding by using an easy-to-use project management tool like Swanly plugin for Jira, which allows you to automate your work, assign tasks to teams across projects, and track projects in a beautiful, simple roadmap.
  • You could simply volunteer to take on extra responsibilities and develop organizational, scheduling and people skills; after all, everything can be a project!

Product manager vs. Project manager - a summary

Product managers typically have a business degree, or software, and they work with product teams to make sure that the product fits well with a company's vision, strategy and customers. They basically oversee all the areas where products are being designed and developed.

Project managers are also involved in communicating and spreading information across teams, but they don't oversee how well these people interact. Also, they may know a thing or two about the technical aspects related to product design/development but that's definitely not part of their job.

Et voila..