Different Agile Roles of Product Manager vs Project Manager

The question is not product manager vs project manager but more agile vs traditional way of working. Both have similar skillsets in terms of working with teams to deliver their projects. The key difference is that a product manager’s job is to ensure the end user’s needs and wants are considered when designing and operating a product. A project manager’s job would be to build the product on time and within budget. They will not be concerned if the product meets user needs and is used.

I recently worked in a team environment where there was a product manager, product owner (me) and Agile project manager. It got very confusing who was responsible for what very quickly. Product manager set strategy and was our leader but didn’t attend standup and other agile ceremonies. Project manager updated the business but need get the update from me, he created project plans off story maps we created with the team but he didn’t attend the team sessions. In the end the agile project manager left.

In my opinion product management needs the support of an organization to work as supposed to but instead companies are more interested in feature factories. If you aree googling project manager vs product manager you are more than likely working in one of these feature factories.

PM Success in Agile Environments

Success to a project manager is little to no scope creep within a project so their plan is not affected. Success to a product manager would be discovering more information about a users needs so they can pivot and address the needs.

For this to make sense you first need to ensure you what is the definition of a product vs project. The critical difference is temporary vs permanent. A product could have multiple projects. Building the product. Launching the product. Adding new feature to a product.

Project vs Product Definition

In software development it can be common to have product managers and work in an Agile project management approach. Agile compliments product management as you work in iterations and have a methodology that expects and accepts change. Agile has concepts such as MVP (minimum viable product) which you would launch with the expectation that there will be changes after gathering user feedback and reviewing data.

At the same time you can have IT projects with a list of requirements that the project is expected to deliver. These IT projects are common when dealing with 3rd parties. You would have a clear specification with list of requirements that defines the. In these scenarios the user feedback and analysis should be done prior to requirements being gathered and defined by business analyst or product owner.

Responsibilities of Project Manger vs Product Manager

A good product manager should have a similar skillset to a project manager BUT a good project manager doesn’t require product management skills. Project managers are traditionally assigned to waterfall projects which they work best. It gets confusing when working in Agile environments such as software development.

Responsibilities of Project Manger vs Product Manager

Product Management skills are a lot more varied and user focused vs project focused. Product managers are responsible to identifying the projects the product would need. They could act as the project sponsor in project focused organizations. In Agile environments it would be common for the product manager to also act as the project manager in terms of kicking it off, reporting on status of project and delivering.

ResponsibilitiesProduct ManagerProject Manager
Define business objectives;YesYes
Satisfy stakeholder expectations; Yes Yes
Communicate Product Vision; Yes No
Gather user data and feedback; Yes No
Verify the delivered products Yes No
Resolve problems and issues; Yes Yes
Optimize the use of organizational resources; Yes No
Manage user change in a better mannerYesYes
Product Manager vs Project Manager Responsibilities

Product Manager vs Product Owner

In organizations that are larger you can have a situation where a product manager has a number of product owners reporting to them. The product owner is a scrum role where they support the scrum team. They are responsible for setting priorities and confirming features meet requirements. These roles have an overlap with project manager and business analysts in organizations that switch from traditional to agile and try to repurpose positions without respecting the individual role purpose.

When you have product owners there should be product managers who are setting the product strategy. When you study for CSPO they make the PO work as a product manager but in my experience this doesn’t translate in organizations. Instead product owners are tasked as business analyst creating detailed specifications for the engineering team. Instead of gathering user feedback via interviews and discovery projects.

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