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Product manager is not a new role. It has been there from long time ago. It not about software products only. Then, my first recommendation is you take a look and going to the basement just because I can write here a lot about the matter but it is not enough room. Both are totally different roles. Project managers supports the work of product managers because project manager is a key role inside the product life cycle when new products has to be created or some changes/retirement of products must be done due to maturity.
Product management can live within and outside a project. As project manager, your first responsibility is to the project outcomes. The product manager's responsibility is to the product outcomes. Sometimes nobody has that specific role on your project. Make sure that you or someone else is fulfilling the responsibiities associated with product management.
If the funding for a product is divided across multiple projects, the two roles can co-exist quite well, especially when there are numerous stakeholders from a delivery and control perspective to be effectively engaged with.
Even though scaled agile frameworks like SAFe do not explicitly identify a role for a PM, the need for project management as an integrated set of activities does not go away, and a role such as a Release Train Engineer is effectively doing what a PM does.
I can only share my experience. Some years ago I worked as a software developer (on contract) for an organization that was developing and delivering software.
In the Software Product Development department on which I worked there were no project managers working at all. The department was led by a software engineering director with software engineering managers under him an then team leads.
The work was not performed as projects and as such there were no fixed budgets for delivering fixed scope. Instead the development was ongoing, the teams were continuously adding new features and fixing bugs. The department had technical product managers this title being just a fancy name for Business Analyst and also "commercial" product managers who however worked from other countries. As I said no project managers were working there.
The same company also had a software services department that was delivering software to customers using the product maintained by the product department for which I worked. The services department had project managers but no product managers. The Project Managers were delivering directly to customers. The services department also had customer support teams that did not work on projects but on operations dealing with the customers raised defects.
So for that company the product manager and the project manager roles were mutually exclusive. On the activities were product managers were working they did not have project managers and vice-versa.
Interesting your question
In my opinion, it depends more on the perspective with which we face the situation
We can consider:
- the development of a product (gestation phase) as a project
- launching a product on the market as a project or program
- the product's growth and market position as a set of projects that support this phase of its life cycle
- The decline and its discontinuation as a set of projects that support this phase of its life cycle
Many product managers can be seen as program managers.
They are in charge of several projects during the life time of a product (needs analysis, design, production, sales, endoflife) and are primarily concerned (and payed for) about the value they provide to their employer (profits, marketshare) and customers. They deal with a variety of stakeholders and integrate their product into the overall organization. If markets change, they have to deal with the disruption.
This relates to the program management domains of benefits management, stakeholder engagement, governance and strategy alignment.
I've seen product manager doing all sorts of things, some aligned towards the traditional BA role, some aligned towards the traditional PM role and some sort of a hybrid. We fixate way too much on the roles and not the function. It does not matter that there is no official role or title for something, the chances are that the function must still be performed. For any function to remain relevant you need to adapt. While the job essentially remains the same the tools and techniques we use change. So now you start getting [some new methodology] Project Manager but it is still a project manager.
BTW on a personal note - the best thing I ever did to stay relevant is to qualify myself as both a PM and BA.
This really is a very interesting and pertinent question. I had to google what a SaaS company was, and from a brief overview of your company it seems to offer a broad range of what appear to be consulting services.
Projects typically deliver either a product or service, the same as a product manager. In my experience, PMs are typically responsible for the product outcomes of their project, because if not; who then?
If this premise is correct, then what really is the difference, especially as Thomas mentioned that product managers can also be seen as program managers?
As both, I can say that my role as a product manager was really that of a program manager, as I was tasked to deliver a complete new line of products for the company as part of it's strategic plan to grow their market share in a specific area where we had no previous exposure.
As a project manager in a predictive environment, especially within the federal government, my role was more focused on the governance processes and approvals. Also, it was more heavily focused on interaction and engagement with many stakeholders both within and outside our organization. Project management, by definition is about the "management" of projects. As a project manager, one need not necessarily be totally technically competent about the product or service being delivered, but the same cannot be said for a product manager.
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