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What's the Difference Between Project Management and Product Management?

It takes top-level leadership to bring a new product or service to market.

Business success is the sum of many parts: ingenuity and resourcefulness, high-performing employees and nimble leadership, strategic focus and customer satisfaction, and product and project management.

If you’re considering a master’s in project management, the nuances of the latter may interest you. While product and project management are distinct functions with their own responsibilities and areas of oversight, they are also symbiotic.

What's the Difference Between Project Management and Product Management?

What Is Product Management?

Every mass-market service or item you purchase has worked its way through some form of the product management process. It might be business productivity software, the zucchini noodles you bought at the grocery store for dinner, or the color-coded IV lines RNs use in intensive care units.

The product management process varies from product to product and organization to organization. But to optimize a product’s chances of success, it needs a champion with a laser focus on the product and strategy. That person is the product manager.

Some view product managers as “the CEOs of their products,” says Ron Yang, senior director of product management at Aha!, a product management software company. “They set the strategy, prioritize releases, talk to customers, and clearly define features,” he writes in the Aha! blog. “Their efforts are ongoing and involve managing the entire lifecycle of the product. A product manager’s goal is to deliver a product that customers love.”1

Product management has oversight of:1

  • Strategy
  • Releases
  • Ideation
  • Features 
  • Go-to-Market
  • Organizational training
  • Profit and loss  

“Product managers must answer, ‘What problem does this solve? What are you building? What will the benefits be?’” Yang writes.

What Is Project Management?

Projects are like matryoshkas, the wooden nesting dolls that fit neatly inside each other in ascending order. Completion of a project may come only after managing a series of smaller projects.

“Project management … is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements,” according to the Project Management Institute (PMI), the education and advocacy organization for almost 3 million professionals worldwide.2

PMI says, “Project management processes fall into five groups”:2

  • Initiating
  • Planning
  • Executing 
  • Monitoring and controlling
  • Closing  

Project managers must concern themselves with the following:2

  • Integration
  • Scope
  • Time
  • Cost
  • Quality 
  • Procurement
  • Human resources
  • Communications
  • Risk management
  • Stakeholder management  

“All management is concerned with these, of course,” the PMI writes on its website. “But project management brings a unique focus shaped by the goals, resources, and schedule of each project. The value of that focus is proved by the rapid, worldwide growth of project management …”2

Aha!’s Yang illustrates how product and project management complement each other in relating a story about a product pitch he made to the leadership team. The presentation went well, and the enthused CFO peppered him with questions.

“I did not know the specifics of what each phase would cost and was unprepared to answer his questions,” he writes. “Luckily our project manager was in the room with me … She jumped right in and explained how the team would get it done on time and under budget.”1

Interested in a Master’s in Project Management?

A project management master’s degree can provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to participate in the growing number of project management career opportunities. “For decades, as the pace of economic and technological change has quickened, organizations have been directing more and more of their energy into projects rather than routine operations,” the PMI reports.3

In selecting a project management master’s degree program, look for accreditation from the Global Accreditations Center (GAC) for Project Management Education Programs of the Project Management Institute (PMI). When you earn a degree from a PMI GAC-accredited program, you receive training that covers the internationally recognized standards set forth in PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition, which ensures that you have the skills to succeed in today’s workplace.

When you enroll in an online MS in project management degree program, you can continue to earn valuable on-the-job experience while gaining new competencies you can use right away.

And the arsenal of project management tools you gain will help you find project-based solutions in industries including:

  • Construction
  • Manufacturing
  • Information technology
  • Communication systems deployment
  • Chemicals, oil, gas, and public utilities
  • Local, state, and federal government 
  • International development
  • Commercial and defense aviation
  • Financial services
  • Product and service development
  • Event planning  

Project managers are “change agents,” the PMI says. “They are organized, passionate, and goal-oriented.”3 If this sounds like you, it’s time to find your purpose and place in the dynamic field of project management.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Project Management and a full suite of online business and management master’s degree programs. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


1Source: https://blog.aha.io/the-product-manager-vs-project-manager/
2Source: www.pmi.org/about/learn-about-pmi/what-is-project-management and www.pmi.org/about
3Source: www.pmi.org/about/learn-about-pmi/who-are-project-managers

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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