How to Choose a Career in Project Manager vs Product Manager

Throughout my career, I have struggled between choosing a product manager vs a project manager career path. Both have great opportunities and bring their own challenges. Having worked as a Product Owner and Agile Project Manager in different companies from large to medium size. Also, have completed certifications in both domains gives me a unique perspective.

There are a lot of crossovers between both roles and it can be a fine balance working on teams that have both positions in place. I personally feel all product people should get project management training to some degree because there is so much going on at the one time they need to be excellent communicators and very organized.

This is why I think project managers have the potential to be great product people but if they lack empathy it’s not going to be a good fit. Empathy is the secret sauce to a fantastic product person. They need to be able to understand the customer’s emotion, wants and needs to deliver a great product. The product manager is the customer advocate in a company.

Arthur Christmas epitomise the perfect Product Manager

If you have watched Arthur Christmas, think Arthur as the Product Manager who cares about delivering the right thing to every customer. He is the customer advocate and will do everything to please them. He is willing to do out of his way to ensure the little girl gets her present on Christmas eve and has convinced an elf to help him.

Then you have his brother with the military type approach who cares about efficiencies and delivering on time within budget. It’s not about the user for him, more the delivery. He was happy with delivering 99.9999% of presents on Christmas eve as it was considered objective complete with an expected defect rate.

Arthur wasn’t he cares about their customers.

Product Mindset

This ability to communicate a vision of ensuring everyone gets a present on Christmas eve and then influence others to follow him is what product people have to do. We don’t have the authority like a project manager but need to use influence to achieve outcomes.

Let me explain the key differences between product vs project…

What is Product Management?

Product management is an organizational function that guides every step of a product’s lifecycle: from development to positioning and pricing, by focusing on the product and its customers first and foremost.

https://www.atlassian.com/agile/product-management

Product management processes usually consist of:

  • Research: User Research, Data Analysis, Competitors
  • Developing Strategy: Creating a Product Roadmap and defining Metrics
  • Communicating Plans: Communicatre vison and roadmap, status reports on product progres, sprint reviews
  • Coordinating Development: Coordinate daily with the relevant teams such as development, design and marketing teams.
  • Acting on Feedback and Data Analysis: Reviewing and repriortizing the backlog based on feedback

What is Project Management?

A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources. And a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal.

https://www.pmi.org/about/learn-about-pmi/what-is-project-management

Project management processes fall into five groups:

  1. Initiating: Getting a Sponsor with an approved Statement of Work
  2. Planning: Create a Project Project for communication, risks, scope and schedule
  3. Executing: Direct and Execute with Project Team
  4. Monitoring and Controlling: Make updates to plan with Change Control Board
  5. Closing: Create Lessons Learned and Final Sign-off

The PM guy does a great job explaining his experience in Microsoft and his interpretation of Project vs Product managers in an enterprise:

What Project Management Skills Help Product Managers

After getting certified with PMI as a Project Management Professional, I quickly realized working in software development that traditional project management model isn’t very relevant for my day-to-day. What I did learn and has been critical to my success as Product Manager is the twofold.

Firstly, the soft skills that the PMI thought are excellent. They do push communication plans but the communication techniques such as active listening and conflict resolution while managing teams are critical

Strong Communication is a skill every Manager should have

Salary of Product vs Project Managers

Project management is a profession where you can easily contract which will bring an attractive salary but contracting has its own downsides. Such as no holidays (being the biggest), sick leave and other benefits full-tine employees receive. For me personally this was the main blocker for my swift career switch to product management.

What swayed my decision is I feel like I can out myself in the customer shoes very easily so I have choose passion over short term gains such a salary. I can always be a project manager, its something I’m qualified in and pretty good at but product management is an endless bucket of information trying to understand users and learning growth possibilities which really excites me.

Salary Guide for Product vs Project Career Choice

Salary Guide for Newbies out College

Salary for Product vs Project 5+ Years Experience

In the U.S., the median salary for product managers is $109,000. However, salaries are highest in major metros on the East and West Coasts. A Complete Guide to Product Manager Salaries | Aha!

Project Management Manager Salary PercentileSalaryLocation
25th Percentile Project Management Manager Salary$122,819US
50th Percentile Project Management Manager Salary$137,969US
75th Percentile Project Management Manager Salary$154,447US
90th Percentile Project Management Manager Salary$169,451US
Read more information at salary.com

Other salary guide resources for PMs

Shane Drumm

Shane is an Agile Project Manager who specialises in digital web projects. He has worked with numerous distributed teams in Asia, Europe, US and Australia. In his spare time, enjoy travelling, cycling, digital start-up ventures and hustling to help other business owners with their digital presence. Find out more about Shane on shanedrumm.com and please reach out and connect with Shane on LinkedIn.

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