Product management and project management have similar names but there are big differences between the two disciplines. Confusing them is common, even among those experienced in product development. One of the key challenges that we hear when we talk to PROJECT MANAGERS and PRODUCT MANAGERS is that they are often expected to perform each others role, for some or all of the design, development, and launch of their product in the marketplace. Unfortunately, the vast majority of enterprises often confuse the two roles, sometimes with the objective of cost savings, other times due to a lack of understanding that the two roles are different yet interrelated, and at other times due to budget constraints, with disastrous results.
Product and Project Defined
The first challenge in differentiating the role of a Project Manager or a Product Manager is that they sound a lot alike. While it is a trivial semantic issue it often leads to confusion about the 2 roles. It’s important to begin with the definition of the words Product and Project.
•PRODUCT: A product is anything that can be offered to a market that might satisfy an unmet want or a need.
A product has a life cycle. It’s conceived, developed, introduced and managed in the market, and retired when the need for the product diminishes. During the life cycle of a product sometimes multiple projects can occur to continue enhancing the product based on customer feedback and/or competitive realities.
•PROJECT: A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result .
Product Management and Product Managers
Product Management defines the products required to achieve strategic business objectives and initiates discrete projects over the life-cycle of the Product, Service or Platform in order to meet enterprise goals.
A Product Manager discovers and articulates the customers’ needs and develops a product to satisfy them. A Product Manager is ultimately responsible for the ongoing satisfaction of the unmet needs of customers and delivering products that will contribute to the following:
•More value than the competition
•A sustainable competitive advantage
•Financial benefit for the business
•The Product Manager manages the product throughout the product lifecycle ensuring that it continues to satisfy market needs including:
•Gathering and prioritizing detailed product and customer requirements
•Defining the product vision
•Insuring knowledge and work integration across design, UX, architecture, and engineering
•Working with sales, marketing and service operations support and ensure revenue and customer satisfaction goals are met.
The Product Manager’s job also includes ensuring that the product and marketing efforts support the company’s overall strategy and goals. In the context of global platforms comprised of several inter-related products the Product Manager’s responsibilities extend beyond the life-cycle of any one product and encompasses the life cycle of all products that comprise the platform.
In summary Product Managers are responsible for the overall and ongoing success of a product . Once the project (or projects) to build the product is complete and the project manager has moved on, the product manager remains to manage the product through the entire life-cycle. Other projects related to the product may be initiated, with the product manager being the one constant stream throughout, defining the project goals and guiding the team to accomplish the business objectives that have been defined by the enterprise.
Project Management and Project Managers
Project management is a tactical, time limited activity that is defined by the businesses strategic or tactical objectives.
Project Management as a discipline provides the tools and techniques for the team to organize and prioritize the various tasks that need to be completed, as well as work within any applicable constraints (including time, cost, and quality).
A Project Manager is ultimately responsible for a predefined outcome that is the projects objective. The Project Manager manages the development of the product, service or result through the application of available resources (including a project team). The tools and techniques Project Managers usually employ can be roughly divided into 3 main areas:
•Risk and issue management is an important aspect of Project Management and serves to highlight and then manage any risks to the project being completed successfully, as well as minimizing the impact of any issues that are identified.
•Resource management involves ensuring that the project team has what they need, when they need it. That includes such simple things as task lists, materials, infrastructure, reporting and even extra people
•Scope management usually the most difficult activity a Project Manager is involved in and involves limiting the extent (scope) of the endeavor within acceptable allowances, usually engaging in a balancing act between the three critical aspects of time, cost and quality. For instance, if the time to deliver the project is reduced then either cost must be increased, or scope reduced to maintain quality.
As a note, the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) from the Project Management Institute (PMI) defines 10 specific knowledge areas, listed below:
1.Project Integration Management.
2.Project Scope Management.
3.Project Time Management.
4.Project Cost Management.
5.Project Quality Management.
6.Project Human Resource Management.
7.Project Communications Management.
8.Project Risk Management.
9.Project Procurement Management.
10.Project Stakeholder Management (added in the 5th edition).
In summary Project managers are responsible for the successful delivery of a project — a one-time endeavor with a goal, scope, deadline, budget, and other constraints. A project manager also works to align resources, manage issues and risks, and basically coordinate all of the various elements necessary to complete the project. As they relate to products, projects can be undertaken to build a product, to add new features to a product, or create new versions or extensions of a product. When the project is complete, the project manager will usually move to a new project, which may be related to a different product.
It’s evident that the roles of a Project Manager and a Product Manager are very different but these roles require a similar high-level skill set.
•Excellent organizational and interpersonal skills
So it is not uncommon for organizations to ask Product Managers to take on Project Management responsibility and vice-versa.
A big challenge of the two roles is that they can often appear to be at odds with each other. A product manager may want to add a lot of features to meet observed customer needs, but the project manager may want to keep scope as small as possible so that the project is delivered on time and under budget.
Good product managers and good project managers are able to create a balance between these conflicts. Good project managers know that the true success of a project is not whether it is on time and within budget, but whether it meets the defined goals and objectives. Good product managers know that all the features in the world will not matter if the project is continually delayed and never makes it to market or if it is too over budget to be completed.
Based on experience one individual doing both jobs can compromise the successful delivery of a project. Three key points to remember are as follows:
•If a Product Manager is also running a project his/her time and attention for the customer strategy gets diverted to chasing people, reporting etc.
•Typically, a single individual does not have sufficient skill sets to perform well on all the requirements of both roles. A Project Manager excels at managing to deadlines and a Product Manager knows what the customer wants and is focused on delivering that.
Wearing both hats with different objectives often results in a conflict of interest.
How Can We Manage These Problems?
In some situations it may still be feasible to have the Product Manager also undertake the Project Management role. However it is always ideal to have these two roles executed by two separate individuals. If a project meets 2 or more of the following 9 project characteristics we recommend that the Project Manger and Product Manager roles be executed by two separate individuals in order to increase the probability of completing the project successfully and launching a great product:
1.High degree of innovation required
3.Market and business model complexity
4.Strategic client commitments
5.Constrained budgets and schedules
7.Multiple involved departments and stakeholders
8.Multiple geographic locations
9.Big team (i.e. 5+ people to co-ordinate)
Having both a Project Manager and a Product Manager will contribute to the successful launch of a product in a very significant manner. It is not a question of one or the other. Both the Product Manager and the Project Manager roles are required for long-term business success. Key points to remember are:
•Just like every product needs a product manager, every project needs a project manager.
•Just because product managers think they can manage their own projects does not mean they should.
•The skills, talents, and traits involved in project management are very different from those involved in product management.
•Just like it is hard to find one single person who can fill the product management role and the product-marketing role, it is hard to find one person who can be successful at both the product management and the project management role.
•Project management is not a stepping stone to product management, or vice-versa.
•Good project managers are just as valuable as good product managers.
•Finding a good project manager to manage your projects will help you be an even better product manager.
•The less time product managers spend on project management, the more time they will be able to spend on product management.
•To avoid conflicts between product management and project management, product managers, project managers, and project teams should all agree on shared goals and objectives as much as possible.
Figure 1 provides an easy to understand graphic that clearly delineates Product Management Tasks vs. Project Management Tasks.
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Project estimation is a complicated process, and for many types of projects
it is not done with much accuracy. Doing it well involves the contributors
who will be responsible for the work and the project leader,
and may also benefit from inputs of experts, sponsors, and stakeholders.
Regardless of exactly who gets involved, precision and consistency
rely on good process and metrics,
Establishing Objectives =======================
Before any detailed, activity-level estimating can be done, there will be
high-level estimates for the project as a whole established by the project
sponsor and stakeholders involved in initiation. If the assumed cost and
duration are not consistent with the expected benefits and value, no
project will ever exist. These estimates may be based on some analysis,
or they may be wild guesses pulled out of the air; whatever their basis,
these initial estimates should be treated only as general goals. Although
they may also represent some known constraints, the initial top-down
estimates can be used only as provisional starting points. Setting a realistic
project baseline requires thorough planning, analysis, and detailed
estimates developed by the team responsible for the work.
Involving Activity Owners
Project planning relies on good requirements definition and scoping,
involving the stakeholders. The resultingscope
for the project provides the basis for a work breakdown structure,
which at its lowest level defines the tasks that must be done to
complete the project. Each of these tasks will need both a duration and
a cost (or effort) estimate, and the best source for the initial bottom-up
estimates will be the assigned activity owner plus any other contributors
The first consideration for estimating will be the method chosen
to do the work. Effort and duration estimates depend strongly on the
approach and process to be used for the work, so once this is clear,
bottom-up estimates are possible. Other considerations for the initial
estimates include potential risks and any remaining unknowns, such as
any contributors who will be involved but are not yet assigned.
Involving Others =============
For work where there is ample precedent and a lot of experience, the
estimates provided by those who will do the work may be more than
adequate. For work that is novel or where you lack experience, you may
want to get outside assistance. Involving peers in your own organization
or networking with contacts in professional societies may provide useful
information. Even getting quotations or proposals from outside service
providers (whether you are considering outsourcing the work or
not) can provide potentially useful insight. Again, additional considerations
will include risks and unknowns, such as just how comparable the
experiences and metrics developed elsewhere will be to your particular
Adding Your Inputs ===============
The final arbiter of project estimates needs to be you, as the project
leader, because ultimately it’s your project. In examining the initial estimates,
be skeptical of any that appear either too conservative or too
optimistic. Ask questions about the basis for the cost and duration estimates,
and probe to uncover exactly how the work is to be done. If you
are not convinced that the people providing the estimates know enough
about the work, ask more questions. Especially if the estimates seem
too small, challenge the owner to break the work down further (whether
you intend to track at that level or not).
Compare the duration and cost estimates, and test if they are consistent
given what you know about how the work will be staffed. If they
are not consistent, provide guidance for adjusting the cost estimate, the
duration estimate, or both. If staffing commitments for all of the work
are not in place, collect range estimates that will be refined later when
the skill sets of the contributors are known. If there are known risks
associated with the work, include an appropriate margin for reserve (to
be managed by you for the project as a whole, not to ‘‘pad’’ activity
Finally, compare the bottom-up detailed estimates of cost to the topdown
objectives for project expense to see how much trouble you are
in. Consider options that might make sense for bringing costs more into
line with expectations if the variance is significant. Use the duration estimates
to build a preliminary schedule and test it against your project’s
timing goals. Again, if there are substantial differences, revisit options
that might realistically reduce durations. In all cases
where your estimates exceed your initial constraints, document the
information that you will need to negotiate a realistic baseline with your
sponsor before formally committing to a fixed project objective.
Kshitij yelkar www.yelkar.com