Project Management vs Product Management: Key Differences Explained

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The 365 Team 15 May 2024 6 min read

Product Management vs. Project Management

While project management is a familiar concept, product management is somewhat new – but the demand for it is rapidly growing. As companies are starting to experiment with new technology, such as AI, they are increasingly on the lookout for people with a product-focused mindset.

Although both project managers and product managers are vital for the well-being of a business, they are two very distinct positions. Yet you’ll often hear them used interchangeably. But because of their individual roles and responsibilities when it comes to product development, it’s important to differentiate between them.

So, in this article, we’ll walk you through:

  • Definitions of project management and product management
  • Responsibilities and required skillset for each role
  • How product management differs from and overlaps with project management
  • How they’re applied in AI and data science context

Whо Is a Project Manager?

To begin with, project managers have a clearly defined project, timeline, and budget. They know the set goal, as well as the constraints of what they’re working on. And there’s a clear end to the project that they manage – in other words, it’s a one-time endeavor.

What Are a Project Manager’s Responsibilities?

Project managers take on large projects – perhaps a product or a business campaign – and break it up into smaller tasks, assigning them to the appropriate personnel. This goes to show that the project manager’s role is tactical – they are responsible for the implementation of the project.

The focus of project management is set internally. What this means is that project managers look towards the assigned teams within the company itself.

Some other responsibilities of a project manager include:

  • Resource scheduling
  • Monitoring the process
  • Risk management
  • Budget allocation

This role also involves a lot of thinking on your feet as project managers often have to make adjustments on the go.

What Are the Required Skills for a Successful Project Manager?

As project managers work with an array of tasks, they need to have excellent time and scope management skills to ensure everything is done within the deadline and budget.

Additionally, a successful project manager has outstanding leadership abilities in order to properly spearhead the project to completion. Meanwhile, solid interpersonal skills are needed so they can communicate well within the project team and continuously update the project stakeholders on the progress.

Whо Is a Product Manager?

Unlike project managers, product managers do not have pre-defined goals – they have to set those themselves. Their efforts in developing the product is not a one-time endeavor. Instead, a product manager’s work comprises of several projects that work together in achieving their goal.

What Are a Product Manager’s Responsibilities?

It’s important to note that product managers don’t manage people – instead, they concern themselves with the product. What this means is that they do not have a set timeline for completion, rather it is an on-going process in which they work on improving the product’s functionality, based on the company’s business needs and customer satisfaction.

Product managers are visionaries. They set goals and KPIs, create roadmaps, and make decisions based on the best outcome for the product. It is a very strategic role – product managers are accountable for the decision of pursuing a project or strategic direction. That is why you’ll often hear them referred to as ‘CEOs of their product’.

Some other responsibilities include:

  • Gathering requirements from user feedback
  • Identifying problems and opportunities
  • Prioritizing initiatives
  • Creating product vision

Collaboration across the company’s various departments also falls into the job description as product managers communicate with the marketing and customer support teams to oversee a product’s revenue and customer satisfaction.

If you’d like to learn more about the marketing side and how customer analytics plays into a product’s success, read our article on the STP framework.

What Are the Required Skills for a Successful Product Manager?

Some of the skills of a successful product manager and project manager overlap.

Product managers often have to convince stakeholders of a product’s potential. Thus, they require solid leadership skills, as well as a certain level of persuasiveness. Additionally, they need to be highly communicative with the company’s customers in order to improve the product.

Additionally, innovation and market-awareness are a must as product managers need to be able to propose new ideas and suggest informed solutions that will help a company reach its business goals.

How Do Project Management and Product Management Overlap?

As we’ve already seen, project managers and product managers share similar skillset requirements. The two roles both deal with a great deal of communication and task monitoring to ensure everything is up and running to company standards.

Depending on the size of your company, a product manager may either work alongside a project manager (as seen in larger organizations) or they may take up the responsibilities of both a product and a project manager (as seen in smaller companies).

How Are the Two Roles Divided in AI and Data Science?

In terms of AI and data science, you could hear references to your AI product as a project, but as we’ve already seen product management and project management are not the same thing.

To illustrate better, suppose a company is working on a photo storage app.

A product manager will look at the best possible solutions for sorting images in said app. After conducting user interviews and working with developers to consider the different levels of difficulty for various solutions, they decide that the team will test neural networks. Once the networks produce the desired accuracy in image sorting, the product manager sets the goal of how it will be integrated into the product.

Then, the project manager is tasked with ensuring that the user experience in the app is built to display the neural network’s findings – all the while overseeing the project within the set time frame and budget.

Project managers do not commonly manage AI projects themselves, because the timelines are difficult to predict.

Product Management: Next Steps

Overall, product management is an increasingly in-demand position that comes with a great deal of responsibilities. It is also an exciting opportunity to showcase innovation and contribute to a company’s success. Learn more about it in our Product Management for AI & Data Science course.

So, are you ready for the next step toward a career in data science? The 365 Data Science Program offers self-paced courses led by renowned industry experts. Starting from the very basics all the way to advanced specialization, you will learn by doing with a myriad of practical exercises and real-world business cases. If you want to see how the training works, start with our free lessons by signing up below.

The 365 Team

The 365 Data Science team creates expert publications and learning resources on a wide range of topics, helping aspiring professionals improve their domain knowledge, acquire new skills, and make the first successful steps in their data science and analytics careers.