Understanding who is doing what in the software development team can be tricky sometimes. People working in this industry for years can freely use terms describing a specific person’s position on a project without causing any confusion about their role and area of responsibility. But, on the other hand, for a business owner looking for a company providing custom software product development services, it may not be so easy to understand right away who’s responsible for what, especially when specialists with different roles share the same initials.
Project Manager (PM) and Product Manager (PM as well) play vital roles in the software product life cycle. The main difference is that they see the software product from different perspectives. So even though product managers and project managers can use similar skills to make things done, the roles they have and metrics you use to assess how well they do their job are pretty different.
Software as a Product vs Software as a Project
The key concept that will help you understand how the project manager’s and product manager’s involvement on the overall success differ is the distinction between product and project.
A product in terms of software development has its own characteristics, but you can think of it like any goods or services you can buy in the market. Say, both a mobile app and a pair of sneakers have something in common. In both cases, it’s essential to design the product according to the needs and expectations of a target audience, develop the marketing strategy, make improvements according to received feedback, and retire a product when it is no longer relevant.
On the other hand, a project is a planned set of activities aimed at creating a product or service. Each of these activities has pre-defined outcomes, such as completed software testing or implemented mobile app features. The project can be considered finished after the team has accomplished all these outcomes.
A project and all the activities it consists of have a start and end date. In contrast, it will look rather strange if the business pre-sets a closing date for one of its products before launching it. The product must constantly evolve and adapt to the changing requirements of end-users or its owner’s growing ambitions. As a result, a product’s life cycle can include multiple projects, the purpose of each of which is to make some improvements and keep it competitive.
For example, you decide to develop a mobile app for dating with a killer feature you want to test in market conditions before investing significant funds in further development. In such a case, you can hire a software developer who’ll start an MVP development project. Then, after receiving the feedback from your first users, you can decide to continue working on your product, add new features, and launch it in new countries. Hence, you need to start a localization project that includes translation and/or removing some content that may be considered inappropriate in some countries. Thus, your product, a mobile application, goes through several stages of evolution, and these stages consist of several projects, each with its starting and ending points.
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We Are What We Manage
As we outlined the main differences between a product and a project, you can already get some idea about the area of responsibility of managers dealing with these concepts. This chapter will shed some more light on this question,describe the roles of product manager and project manager and their responsibilities in more detail.
The product manager’s primary responsibility is to develop a long-term strategic plan of development and communicate it to the team. Their goal is to shape the initial product into something that end-users will love through the ongoing evolvement. Product managers should be able to determine what problems a software solution can solve, what lies beyond its capabilities, what features should be implemented next, and what benefits they can bring.
Product managers don’t leave the product until its time is up, and it must be removed from the market due to customers’ dissatisfaction or any other reason. In order to delay this moment as long as possible, product managers have to understand the current needs of the end-users and describe them in a way a development team can understand and use. To achieve this goal, product managers have to communicate with users to gather requirements and feedback, identify current problems and possible opportunities and define features worth the development team’s time.
In a manner, the success of a product manager relies both on solid knowledge of how the market works and intuition, allowing them to make life-defining decisions. For example, if a QA team detects that an application has some bugs, will it be better to fix them or the product launch delay will cause more problems? Suppose the newly introduced feature did not cause the expected excitement among users. Should the development team try to “polish” it, or does the whole thing doesn’t make any economic sense anymore? These and many other questions can be a part of product managers’ daily routine. Additionally, losses and profits are also a part of their responsibility, so close collaboration with the sales and marketing teams also plays a vital role.
The project manager’s role may seem smaller simply because a product as a whole can include several smaller projects, and its life cycle is much longer. However, since a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, the impact of this member of the development team on the whole project can not be underestimated. The primary responsibility of a project manager is to work with a team of specialists with diverse skills to ensure that a project will be completed on time and under a given budget.
Project managers are less focused on long-term product development strategies. Instead, they devote their working hours to allocating the available resources to ensure that the project will be delivered with minimal risks. Project managers are usually involved after the features to be implemented are clearly defined. After that, everything that helps reach the goal, from budget management to QA activities, is in their hands.
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Since product and project managers see the software solution from different perspectives, sometimes tension can appear. The product manager’s primary goal is to build something that all the end-users will adore. A software product that solves as many customers’ problems as possible and includes dozens of well-polished features is an embodiment of their dreams.
Product managers, on the other hand, have to consider the available resources and possible issues that may appear if a development team will bite off more than it can chew. After all, risk management, resource scheduling, and scope management are the activities for which fulfilment you pay such specialists. However, being a part of one team, experienced product and project managers can always find a balance between desired and what is executable.
Why Getting Two for the Price of One Isn’t Always a Good Idea
After a brief look at the primary tasks that product and project managers solve, it may seem that combining these two roles by one person can be a rather brilliant idea. A single specialist can develop an evolutionary strategy for a product for the next decade and then systematically carry out the implementation of projects to achieve the set goals. However, while such an approach can work for small apps, more complex software solutions may cause undesirable issues.
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First, we have to note that a product manager is mainly responsible for externally oriented activities such as constant interaction with clients. Such a state of affairs may lead to a situation where it’s hard to focus on external and internal activities for a person who tries to fulfil both roles, which may harm product vision and/or the development team.
Due to the nature of the profession, a product manager may lack some technical skills necessary for an adequate estimation of how long it will take for the team to implement a set of specific features. Missed deadlines will be the most likely scenario in this case.
We are all just human beings, and having too much responsibility on our shoulders at some point, we may not be able to withstand the pressure. Being a single person on which the product success and timely execution of all projects depend is an arduous task. Inability to simultaneously control so many variables, psychological pressure, and a simple lack of time to keep track of everything can be a bottleneck that your project cannot overcome.
The confusion caused by the overlapping skill set and responsibilities of product and project managers, as well as the similarity of these job titles, may mistakenly make you think that they’re interchangeable. They see the product from different perspectives, but this is not a source of confusion or controversy within the team. These differences can complement each other, guarantee the timely implementation of features that the end-users will love, and influence the long-time prosperity of your brand.
If you have some questions regarding your project or looking for a team of experienced developers, feel free to contact us.