Project management and product management often get confused, and sometimes jobs will be advertised where it’s clear that the role is project management, and the title is Product Manager. Or vice versa!

The two roles do have some similarities, and we’ll look at those in just a minute. There are differences though – the job titles are not interchangeable, although both are fantastic careers with plenty of opportunities for the right candidates.

But what if you want to move from project management into a more product-focused role? Is it possible? Yes, of course! Let’s look at how.

Similarities in the Roles…

There are some similarities in the qualities needed for each job. Both product managers and project managers need excellent communication skills. The roles both act as a link between different departments – in either position, you are the glue that creates a successful result by helping various teams work together.

There are elements of planning and budgeting in both roles. And regardless of which position you find yourself in, you still need a degree of business acumen, the ability to manage risk, and the skill to stay calm when you hit a problem.

…And Differences

The main difference between product and project managers is this:

  • A product manager tells you what to build.
  • A project manager tells you how to build it.

In other words, the product manager works out the vision for the solution and sticks with it for the whole lifecycle. The project manager galvanizes the team to get the work done to deliver on that vision.

Skill-wise, that does mean there are differences in what successful candidates bring to the table. A product manager is in it for the long-haul. That means managing the product concept, design, delivery (as the ‘customer’ for the project manager) plus the launch, updates, customer service, and eventually decommissioning. There’s a lot of long-range planning and far more touchpoints. And, potentially, far more contact with end-users.

Project managers have a concentrated effort that delivers part of the product lifecycle: the bit that builds the product. They might get involved in other parts or as part of other projects, such as delivering an upgrade or creating a new product and helping transition customers to that as part of a decommissioning project. There’s a day-to-day focus on tasks that help the team get through their To-Do lists. But they aren’t responsible for the success of the product overall, and there’s little long-term strategy involved beyond what it takes to get to the end of the project.

Making the Change Successfully

Project management gives you a broad skill set that is packed with transferable skills. So, in theory, making the transition to product management should be relatively easy.

But it’s not.

It requires a significant change of outlook. You are no longer focused on the end game, the delivery point. Instead, your thinking has to become far more long-range. Indefinite, with no fixed ending, sometimes, as most products have a long shelf life. You’ll no longer be able to walk away from this team, and this deliverable at the end of a go-live. If you relish the change that a new project brings and the chance to work with lots of different teams, then maybe product management won’t give you the change of scene and variety that you crave.

Product management also requires a much deeper skill set in marketing with a sharp focus on customer service. If you haven’t had much experience in this area, you might find that a difficult transition.

A New Career Path

The shift into product management is an exciting one, and for the right person, it could be a huge opportunity. But it should be seen as a new career path, not an extension of project management. It’s a sideways step, but it can open doors in marketing that you wouldn’t have been able to access before, so you may quickly find yourself climbing a very different career ladder.

Product managers use project management skills to do a lot of the smaller projects within their remit, so you’ll undoubtedly be able to put your project management experience to use. That’s because there are often projects that are too small to warrant a dedicated project manager. However, having project management skills will make delivering those initiatives so much easier.

Take the Next Step

Does product management sound like the direction you want to take your career? As a project manager, you have a lot of the core skills, but you can start thinking about things to boost your likelihood of securing a job.

To make it easier to transition into a product management role:

  • Learn about your company’s customers. Start thinking about what motivates them, the challenges they face, and how your company serves them.
  • Learn about analytics. Boost your skills in uncovering and using data. Get experience with Google Analytics and learn about how to research customer behavior through whatever tools your company uses.
  • Build your business knowledge. If you want to move to a new company, learn about that industry and the customers there. Think about how you can uncover new insights into how that business operates so that you are going for an interview prepared to answer questions about the kind of products and activities that make sense for that sector.

We can help you make the move from project manager to product manager. Contact Triumph Strategic Consulting today and let us find your perfect role.

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