Product Managers and Project Managers Have This in Common
December 22, 2015

Product Managers and Project Managers Have This in Common

by Ron Yang

I wrote an article recently about the differences between product management and project management. I was glad to read the feedback. There is a lot of confusion around these roles, and I hope I was able to provide an interesting perspective. But the comments suggested that there is more to cover.

One thing that article did not address is the similarity between these two roles. It might appear that there are few common goals between product managers and project managers. At least, that is what I thought early on in my career. But an important product launch a few years ago taught one thing both roles have in common. Here is what happened:

In the weeks leading up to a fairly complex product update, I realized that there were still a few key features missing. This was an oversight on my part. And I felt sick to my stomach the moment it hit me.

Needless to say, my project manager was not happy when I told him the launch would have to be delayed several weeks. In fact, he was furious. He had a tight deadline he was committed to — a deadline that was now in question.

Ultimately, he wanted to push the release through without the much-needed functionality in order to meet his deadline. It seemed that we were at a divide with opposite goals.

Then I had an epiphany. Sure, we each had our own product and project-level goals. But ultimately, those goals all had the same intended outcome — to deliver a product that would delight customers.

So, I pulled my project manager aside after our next meeting and explained how poor the customer experience would be if we pushed the release through on time (and without the key missing features). Thankfully, he listened. The release went out a week late — but when it did, our customers were thrilled. And more importantly for us, we both learned a key lesson that day.

Product and project managers both have the same loyalty — and it is not to KPIs and deadlines. It is to the customer using the product.

Did this story sound familiar? If so, here are 3 ways you can work with your project manager to achieve that mission. You should both:

Know your role Some companies have product managers that manage projects, too — it’s what we do at Aha! and what we recommend. But this is not the case in each organization. Understand what exactly each person owns when the product and project manager are two separate roles. Keeping this in mind will help you both stay on the same page — even when your work seems to take you in different directions.

Be transparent It is natural to silo yourself into different groups in organizations. But this can keep everyone from being on the same page. And there is a level of transparency that you must have in order to stay on the same page. So, when working with your project manager, make sure that you are both as transparent as possible — both with one another and with your teams.

Put the customer first It is easy for both the project and product manager to get bogged down by requests. But remember that the product and project managers have a shared (and more important) high level goal: to act as customer advocates to their respective teams. That means you must both answer the “why” of what is being built. This helps your organization understand — and implement — your rationale.

This also keeps the product and project teams from working separately on different sets of assumptions. And it allows everyone on both teams to share their assumptions and motivations about what you all are building.

Is it possible to deliver a product that customers love while also meeting project deadlines and budget constraints? Absolutely.

But when deadlines and goals are at risk, remember that your end responsibility is to the customer. Product and project managers must see this truth through their own unique set of eyes. So, remember this the next time you think you have nothing in common.

When you toil with the customer in mind, it lets you both collaborate under a new united front.

Do your product and project managers put the customer first?

Ron Yang

Ron Yang

Ron builds lovable products. He was the vice president of product management and UX at Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software. Ron has more than 15 years of experience in entrepreneurship and leading product teams. Previously, Ron founded and sold his own company and has been on the founding team of multiple venture-backed companies.

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