Product vs. Project: what is the difference between professions that are often confused

    Olga Stratanovich , Program Director at ProductSense and Chief Product Officer at Kinoplan, spoke about the key differences in the thinking and skills of the product manager and the project manager.

    The profession of "product manager" is still young in the CIS, but already in demand in the market. Companies with their own development are looking for a person who can release and maintain the product. Custom development also needs a grocery approach. But there are not enough good product managers at all, so there is a need to take juniors from other areas.

    Project management is considered the closest area. I often meet former managers from custom development who have moved to product management. They do not understand what changes should occur in the new job. Usually they think that this is just the next stage of project management.

    Let's analyze the difference between a product manager and a project manager.

    Area of ​​responsibility

    The main metrics of project success are time, budget and volume of tasks. The project manager should receive the requirements from the stakeholders, agree on a budget and ensure that the project is submitted on time. He is not interested in what happens next:
    - how the end user will receive the project and use it,
    - how the project will or will not develop.

    For a product manager, the main thing is to convey the benefits to the client. Product creation is only a small part of the responsibility of the product manager. He needs to think about the need and efficiency of the functional, "packaging", delivery, maintenance and product development.

    Hypothesis generation and validation

    The project manager does not generate ideas: he receives a task that he must perform effectively. A good manager will clarify with the customer the purpose of the project, together with him will think about the optimal solution and can offer his own. But he does not put forward and does not test hypotheses - the business owner, the customer and other stakeholders are usually involved in this.

    The main task of the product manager is to identify needs and propose ideas for product improvement. The product manager communicates with users a lot, conducts in-depth interviews, puts forward, tests and rejects hypotheses. He can do all this even without a development team. He does not know what to do, but he is looking for his own way.

    Uncertainty conditions

    The project manager acts in advance of the designated conditions: the volume of tasks is known (it can be reduced, but not by much), the deadlines and budget are agreed. The responsibilities of a manager are usually clearly spelled out in the guides, internal regulations and company rules.

    The product manager is less fortunate: he never knows exactly what he has to do. Which hypothesis will fail, and which will bring profit? Here there are MVP, economic calculations, metrics, A / B tests, prototype validation - everything that helps to evaluate the idea.
    The product manager should recognize the failure of experiments and mercilessly remove functionality that does not bring the expected benefits. He has to give up his own ideas and wishes of customers.


    At the interview, I always ask the candidate to tell what metrics his latest product had or what metrics he would choose if he were the owner of the product. Former project managers respond: "Number of users" or "We fastened analytics, but I did not look there."

    The product manager always looks deeper: there are many metrics, and each product requires its own approach. The ability to select metrics, analyze and make decision-based analysis is one of the most important skills in this profession.


    The project manager does not think about payback, his task is to meet the agreed budget.

    For the product manager, the payback comes first. How much will we spend? Which model of monetization to choose? How to attract users and increase Lifetime Value? How to get extra profit? These are questions to which we are looking for answers constantly.

    Sales, implementation and maintenance

    This project manager usually does not encounter. The project is accepted, the documents are signed - this is where its area of ​​responsibility ends. If the project needs to be accompanied or something is finalized, the company will conclude a new contract or launch an internal project with a new budget, the volume of tasks and deadlines.

    For a product manager, ready-made functionality is just the beginning. We need to agree with related departments, “pack” the product, deliver to the customer, explain the value to the sales department. It is important to ensure that the product is accompanied qualitatively: for example, in b2b, maintenance is just as important as product functionality.
    Interaction between teams and building effective processes is another challenge for the product manager.


    The project manager accepts requirements from stakeholders and transmits to the development team.

    The communications product manager has much more. He is the entry point to the team for all related departments. The whole stream of questions from the sales, marketing and support departments flows to it. He constantly communicates with customers. Top managers broadcast his vision.
    Effective communication and filtering of the incoming flow is the first thing the product manager has to learn.

    Strategy and vision

    The project manager operates within the project term - usually it lasts no more than a year. Goals are most often set by the business owner or customers. The project manager manages only control points within this period.

    The product manager forms his own vision of where his product is heading and what it will become in 1–3–5 years. He must clearly understand how a task brings the product to the goal, and sometimes sacrifice short-term results.

    Risk management

    A good project manager always thinks about risks and minimizes their negative impact.

    The product manager thinks about the possibilities. Any uncertainty or problem is the potential to improve a product. The product manager is thinking how to get additional benefits and do something that no one else has done.


    The project manager should bring a well-described clear task to the team: What to do? How to do? What time frame do?

    The product manager needs to “sell” the user's pain and, together with the team, work out an optimal solution to this pain. A team with a grocery mindset cannot simply bring a task - they start asking difficult questions. This is very good for the product, but it requires the manager to develop his ideas, inspire the team, and explain problems.
    In business, they talk a lot about the grocery thinking of teams. The definition of a product engineer appears - a developer who not only takes and does the task, but thinks about the user, offers his own solutions.

    Competency Map

    The profession of project manager has long been formed. His skill set is defined and understood.

    The profession of product manager is still young. In different companies, he may have different responsibilities, so the skills must be broader. It is not only management, but also marketing, economic fundamentals, analytics, negotiation skills, leadership, design fundamentals and much more.

    The product manager is “sick” for the product. The product sells poorly - this is his problem. You need to go to the sales department and find out the reasons, help build the process, prepare marketing materials. There are no resources for development - go to HR (this is not the responsibility of the manager, but what if the important tasks are hampered by the lack of developers?). No designer - draw mockups yourself. Let it be unprofessional, but the goal should not be a perfect layout, but customer benefit.
    It is important that the product manager can do something on his own, if there is no one to do it, or find someone to whom it can be delegated. The product manager cannot say: "It is not my responsibility, I will not be responsible for this." He needs to do his best to make the product successful.


    I have no purpose to show that product managers are cooler than project managers. I saw excellent productologists who could never manage complex projects and write detailed TK. I wanted to show the difference in thinking and responsibility. If you decide to go from project to product development, you will have to:

    1. Think outside of development: what to do and how to deliver the benefit, not how to do it.
    2. Generate, test and cut hypotheses.
    3. Put up with uncertainty and reduce it.
    4. Set and analyze metrics.
    5. Think about payback.
    6. Search for new features.
    7. Learn to live with an increased number of communications.
    8. Formulate and “sell” your ideas.
    9. Be prepared to deal with any problems in the product.
    10. Take responsibility for the success or failure of the product.

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