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    May 19, 2023

    One Big Thing: The Biggest Hurdle for Project Managers to Become Product Managers

    In a recent blog post, we outlined some of the key benefits of product management. But, in order to get those benefits, your organization needs to have the right people in place.

    Product management and project management are two different roles within a company; each has different responsibilities and requires a unique set of skills. While there may be some overlap between the two roles, it is important to understand the differences in order to maximize the productivity of your organization. You can’t just change your project manager’s title to product manager and be done.

    Project management

    Project management is, at its heart, a linear process, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. The goal is to complete the project on time, within budget, and to the satisfaction of stakeholders.

    Think of project management like baking a cake. You have a recipe, a timeline, and a set of ingredients that need to be mixed together in a specific order. You follow the recipe step by step until you have a finished deliverable.

    Product management

    Product management, on the other hand, is an iterative process focused on creating and delivering an ongoing asset that continuously solves customer problems. Product managers work to identify new customer needs, gather feedback, and make improvements to the product to ensure that it remains relevant and valuable over time.

    Think of product management like gardening. You plant a seed, water it, and tend to it over time, making adjustments as needed to ensure that it grows and thrives.

    How are project and product management different?

    The contrast between the linear and iterative process is really important because it entirely changes the nature of the relationship between project/product managers and their stakeholders.

    Because a project has a definitive goal and end date, everyone involved just needs to get charged up once to make it to the finish line. This is a fairly straightforward activity—one that still requires good organizational and communication skills, mind you. However, this does not require any particular domain expertise to accomplish if you have the right subject matter experts on hand.

    Another good analogy here is attending college and the relationship with professors and fellow students. You have a set of courses to take, a set amount of time to take them, some flexibility in the sequence, and (hopefully) a degree and graduation ceremony at the end. If you choose, you can keep in touch with the people you studied with or never see them again. You might have been able to deal with that roommate knowing it was for a finite duration, but you would never want to put up with them indefinitely.

    Product managers have a much more challenging task when it comes to dealing with stakeholders. That’s because the relationships are now enduring, pretty much like getting married. You don’t know how long you will be together, but the hope is that you will continue delivering value forever (or as long as is reasonably possible).

    This also means that there may be fits and starts, periods where things go well and periods where things go poorly—all of the usual ups and downs of any relationship. Project managers generally don’t have to consider these ongoing dynamics.

    Most importantly, product managers have to devise ways to make the product’s value attractive to stakeholders on a repetitive basis. Every quarter, new features are delivered; it’s up to the product manager to get the stakeholders to care and recognize that value each and every time—similar to ways people have to work to keep things fresh within a marriage.

    Conclusion

    Given these distinctions, the reality is that the skills necessary to be a successful product manager are different than those required to be a successful project manager. We’ll cover those skills in a later post.

    In the meantime, Broadcom offers workshops and other resources for people looking to improve their product management approach.

    Brian Nathanson

    Brian Nathanson is a recovering certified Project Management Professional now serving as the Head of Product Management Clarity at Broadcom. He is the host of several popular Clarity-related customer webcasts (Office Hours, Release Previews, and the End-to-End Modern UX Demos) and has conducted many hours of both...

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