The new product manager (and why it’s different from project managers)

The term product manager is often associated with software product managers, but lately I’ve seen how the term product manager has been gaining space on non-it companies who now require middle managers to have a greater strategic impact in their roles. With more tight / budget conscious companies this days look for people who can see past their current work and lead organizations rather than just waiting for instructions from upper management.

So what’s the difference between them?

Project managers are entitled with a specific and defined goal, e.g. : produce a billboard ad, develop a landing web site, prepare and launch social media campaign, etc. Their work is mostly focused on:

  • Defining the different projects tasks.
  • Making sure the required resources are available through the projects progress.
  • Following up with the doers (the ones actually making the operational part of the project) and helping them whenever they have problems.

In my opinion, project managers are like those guys on those old roman chariots whipping the horses to go faster. Project managers sole focus is to get their goal  (project) executed. They themselves are doers in nature.

Product managers on the other hand have a more strategic role as they’re entitled with the responsibility of developing a product  (or a service) without a specific deadline or a strict business direction to follow (they’re not necessarily told exactly what or how it should be done).

Their role is a mix of a thinker and a doer as they iterate over small projects building up on value for their customers and their company.  Product managers are mostly focused on:

  • Capturing feedback from customers, data and business goals to determine the products development direction.
  • Define a product’s (service) roadmap based on the feedback mentioned above.
  • Breakdown the roadmap into small projects. Learn from every iteration , correct and continue to build value.

Because of this strategic role, Product manager are expected to assume a leadership position in a company, taking the business goals and the available feedback and helps to build the vision of how a product should evolve. Of course it’s not about sitting back and relax but getting involved in the actual execution to ensure the vision remains through its development.

Understanding this evolution of the new product managers it’s important for current project managers to gain the new soft skills required (which we’ll write later on). For companies, it’s important to look at the current management trends and how the industry is starting to further delegate on middle management for a tactical approach on their different products and services.

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