Product vs. Project Management

Instructor: Toni Bonton

Toni has taught personal finance and is currently pursuing a doctorate in business administration.

Product and project management are often thought to mean the same thing; however, that is not quite the case. This lessons explains the difference between product and project management.

The Pitch

Kim is a product manager for a major electronics company that manufactures a variety of products from commercial and residential appliances, to consumer electronics, such as cell phones and their coordinating accessories and apps. At Monday morning's staff meeting, it was announced that the company will be introducing a new product in the fall, the Universe CT, a smartphone geared toward college students. After the meeting, Kim was asked to stay behind to discuss the details with Heather, the new project manager. The two decide that they should meet after lunch to outline each of their duties.

Who's Doing What?

Product management is a function of management that follows a specific product throughout its entire life cycle. As the product manager, Kim is responsible for overseeing the Universe CT from its conception as an idea, until it is terminated as a product. Take a look at the product management scope:

product mgmt scope

The Universe CT began as a simple concept. Since the company already offers the CampusTab, a tablet geared toward college students, a college-themed cell phone seemed like the next logical product offering. As the product manager, Kim was in charge of taking that concept and turning it into an actual product. To do this, Kim began working with Jake, a project manager that supervised the Universe CT research stage. Once Kim and Jake were satisfied with the research, they continued to work together to turn the concept into an actual strategy.

Now Kim is ready to work with Heather, the new project manager. Kim and Heather will be responsible for taking the strategy and putting it into action by developing the actual product, in this case, the Universe CT smartphone. Once a physical product has been developed, Kim and Heather will continue working together until the smartphone hits the market. As the Universe CT evolves and grows in the market, Kim expects that the success of the smartphone will pave the way for more products in the Universe CT product line, like the Universe CT-II. At that point, Kim will work with yet another project manager to complete that task. As long as the Universe CT and its product line is offered by the company, Kim will remain as the product manager; however, each new task comes with a new project manager.

Key Difference

While product management focuses on the product, project management is an organizational function that follows a specific task from its initiation to completion. Let's have a look:

project mgmt scope

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