Project vs. Product Management

by Furqan Nazeeri | March 12, 2012

Estimated time to read: minutes

These two words sound similar and many people even use them interchangeably, however they are quite distinct.

In the world of software and IT, every project however big or small requires both product and project management. For the very small projects, however, the same person will typically perform both roles and they often take a small percentage of the overall time invested in that project.

But for larger projects these can become full time roles in and of themselves. If misunderstood, a project can become a huge failure, but if understood and executed well, you can achieve a wild success.

Project Management

But first, some definitions:

Project Management. Project management is the discipline of planning, organizing, securing and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of a specific project. Think of it as keeping the "trains on time."

Product Management. Product management is the discipline of planning, forecasting and marketing of a product at all stages of the product lifecycle. Think of this as planning the "design of the train, train routes, schedules, ticket pricing, etc."

You can see from the above definitions, these are very different disciplines.

The Project Manager is primarily interested in and focused on:

  • Staffing
  • Scope
  • Schedule
  • Budget
  • Quality
  • Risk
Each of these factors is interrelated with others and even with the best laid project plan, as the project progresses there are variances. This is the primary role of the project manager to minimize variance.
On the other hand, the Product Manager is primarily interested in and focused on:
  • KYC - Know Your Customer
  • Product features / benefits
  • Competing products/services
  • Pricing
  • Sales / distribution

As you can see, the Product Manager is the subject matter expert across multiple functions (marketing, sales, engineering, finance, etc.). Success is predicated on having a great product that "wow's" the customer that is appropriately priced and efficiently distributed.

Great Product Managers are seasoned veterans. They have industry-specific knowledge and a broad portfolio beyond engineering. They obsess about the customer experience and are keen to monetize their product optimally.

Great Project Managers are skilled in the science of development and have unmatched attention to detail. They know that good news travels fast and bad news travels faster. They are expert communicators and they know that the devil is in the detail.

At ExtensionEngine, we pride ourselves on recruiting not only just great engineers and quality assurance professionals, but also outstanding Project and Product Managers.


Furqan Nazeeri

Furqan Nazeeri is a Partner at Extension Engine. He regularly speaks on innovation in online learning and has 20+ years of experience building and managing high-performance teams. Prior to Extension Engine, Furqan was a founder/CEO of VC-backed Pivot Inc. (acquired by NASDAQ:CME) and EIR at Softbank Capital. He has a BSE in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Harvard University.

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