Product manager vs project manager: Salaries, backgrounds, and responsibilities

Hi, I’m Sam! I have been a product manager for years. Now I work as an industry mentor for the product, strategy, and operations track at Pathrise. I help people land their dream job through workshops and 1-on-1 mentoring. Check out our guide where we compare product manager vs project manager so you can see which role is right for you.

Most tech workers will tell you “PM” stands for product management. Without missing a beat they’ll explain that product managers help companies plan and build successful products. But there’s another PM role that would beg to differ: project managers. They also plan and direct, but focus instead on specific projects. Project managers make sure projects are completed on time, don’t drain the budget, and live up to the company or clients’ vision. 

Clearly, there’s overlap. Swap ‘product’ for ‘project’ and suddenly the job description fits a totally new role. That is why it can be difficult to answer the question, what does a product manager do, especially when you compare it to a project manager. How can you decide if you should be applying for product manager or project manager roles? To even be competitive in the job search, applicants need to apply to the right position for their background, experience, and goals. To help you do this, we’ve outlined the similarities and differences between project management and product management. Use this post to compare your skill set to the required skills, tools, and salaries for product manager vs project manager roles.

What is product management?

Successful products don’t come from code or hardware. Instead, they come from product managers. A product manager identifies customer needs, then crafts a vision for a product that meets that need, and finally manages the creation of the envisioned product. This process of product management ensures companies produce effective products people actually want.

It’s all in the name: product managers manage products from design to launch. This complete process of product management, also known as the product life cycle, includes assessing customers’ needs, defining a vision for a product, and crafting a prototype. In addition, product managers work closely with engineering, sales, and marketing teams to actually build and launch the product.

Customers only buy products that solve a problem. Product managers create a rough product prototype, or minimal viable product (MVP), to see if the product can actually be successful in solving a problem for real customers. In addition to this process of ‘ideation’ and ‘prototyping’ their products, product managers ensure products hit the ground running with a successful launch. This often involves budget and profit analysis.

What is project management?

Project management is leading a team to reach their project goals within time and budget constraints. While product management is all about products, project management is more focused on management–time management, budget management, and team management. These are a project manager’s bread and butter.

Project and product management methodology is split into 2 schools of thought: Agile vs Scrum. The Agile method divides large tasks into smaller tasks, then assigns each smaller task an owner and deadline. The small projects get completed in short “sprints” that encourage teamwork. PMs turn to Agile management for flexibility because the intense collaborative sprints mean anything can change on a dime. Agile allows for pivots and constant communication without overwhelming the team.

Scrum is technically also a kind of Agile methodology. Like Agile, Scrum breaks up large projects into manageable chunks. But rather than breaking up projects into smaller tasks that come together to complete the full project, Scrum breaks large projects down into short “sprint” cycles of project completion. These cycles set Scrum apart. They also make Scrum more rigid, with an emphasis on leadership. At the start of a large project, a “Scrum master” crafts a project vision and plans what each team will accomplish during the sprints. Each sprint works to create a mini-project, which means there is not a lot of room for change. The Scrum master also leads daily standups, huddles, and other collaborative exercises. Therefore, Scrum masters facilitate team building, encouraging teams to ask questions and troubleshoot.

Similarities and differences between product managers and project managers

Product management and project management both involve managing a vision until it turns into reality. However, they have completely different scopes.

Similarities

  • Candidates looking to be successful in project management or product management need strong communication and leadership skills as they typically act as manager of a team working to build a final product.
  • Both fields involve following blueprints, roadmaps, and timelines. Agile & Scrum methodologies are used by both roles.
  • Likewise, both fields require time management skills and often involve tight deadlines.
  • Finally, product managers and project managers should be visionary, inspire teammates, and stay organized under pressure.

Differences

  • Project managers manage projects and the people involved. Product managers manage a technical product, from build to launch.
  • In addition, product management is often more technical than project management and may even require some data or product design skills. It includes lots of testing, analysis, and even developing a prototype for a product.
  • While both require time management, a project has a set start and end date. Products need to be managed continuously for as long as customers use them. Project management is temporary, while product management is longer term and often evolves with the product.
  • Product management is more strategic, analytical, and often involves crafting grand visions. Project management deals with an existing vision for a project and making sure it goes according to plan. 

Product manager vs project manager: Skills

Recruiters and hiring managers need to know new employees have the right skills to be successful in the role. By carefully reading job descriptions, you can determine exactly what recruiters are looking for in a candidate. In order to prove their worth to a team and recruiters, aspiring product managers and project managers should have the following skills.

Product manager skills

  • Crafting a product vision
  • Product research
  • Product testing
  • Communicating a vision for a product
  • Product strategy
  • Following a roadmap for a product vision
  • Prototyping (Maybe some limited UX/UI design skills)
  • Organization
  • Collaboration and interpersonal relationships

Project management skills

  • Dividing a project vision into manageable chunks
  • Project planning
  • Resource management
  • Meeting deadlines
  • Communicating goals, progress, and tasks
  • Tracking and measuring progress
  • Leadership
  • Organizational skills

Product manager vs project manager: Tools

While neither role is particularly technical, they both require skill with a wide variety of planning, workflow, and even design tools. Mastering these tools and adding them to your resume lets recruiters and hiring managers know that you have the right knowledge for the role.

Product manager tools

  • Roadmapping and project management platforms (Asana, Roadmunk, Aha!, ProductPlan, Trello, ProdPad, Jira, Confluence, OmniPlan, Pivotal Tracker)
  • Prototyping tools (Axure, Lucidchart, Pencil, Balsamiq Mockups, Mockingbird, Justinmind, Visio, Creately, OmniGraffle)
  • User tracking and analysis platforms (Pendo, Amplitude, SurveyMonkey, Typeform, Google Forms, Zoom, Google Analytics, FullStory, Hotjar, ProductBoard)
  • Google Analytics (analyze trends, interest, and traffic)
  • Visio (flowcharting)

Learn more about product management tools needed to land a great job in our article.

Project management tools

  • Jira
  • Pivotal Tracker
  • Trello
  • Kissflow Project
  • Hive
  • Asana
  • Microsoft teams
  • Monday.com
  • Slack
  • Powerpoint

Product manager vs project manager: Salaries

In general, product managers need more technical skill and prior experience than project managers. Since project management is based on soft skills like leadership and management, most product managers can become project managers. However, project managers might need to take a certification or get some more product-specific training in order to become a product manager. Since product managers have a more specialized skill set that often requires more education, they typically make more money than project managers.

Average salary for product managers

According to Glassdoor, product managers can expect an average salary of $112,040. On AngelList, product managers make an average salary of $105,500.

Average salary for project managers

If you check Glassdoor, the average compensation for project managers is $88,019. But, on AngelList, the average salary for a project manager is $100k. This includes both startups and big corporations, which makes it more well rounded, but neither account for geography, which can affect salary. Read our outline for how to negotiate your salary, which includes an email template you can use.

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