Product or Project Management? Let’s explain the differences!

“Mom, dad… I’m going to be a Product Manager”
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Defining what is Product Management

First of all, do you know what a Product Manager is?

I remember when I said to my parents the first time, “Mom, dad… I’m going to be a Product Manager”, they said “Congrats but… what is that?”.

Indeed many of you probably don’t know what a Product Manager is/does. Which gives me a good start point! Paraphrasing Marty Cagan, the Product Manager is the person explicitly responsible for ensuring value and viability for the product – If you don’t know who Marty Cagan is, he is one of the most important people regarding Product Culture in the world, it is worth Googling him.

In other words, He says that it is our responsibility to be sure that whatever is being built is something useful, which solves a problem for a specific market. Because, If you don’t have a market, you don’t have viability. On the other hand, if you do have a market, but you don’t create value, your product is more or less useless.

The transition from Project to Product

Now that you have an idea of what we do, let me speak a bit about myself. I didn’t start my career as a Product Manager, actually, I started as a Process Engineer working mainly with Lean Manufacturing, and I fell into this position due to a friend, and let me be honest, neither he nor I knew at that time what a Product Manager is/does.

The transition to Product Manager wasn’t easy, I had my background working with projects, which is kind of different. Working in Projects you define a specific scope and you have a specific timeline to deliver, once all is communicated, it’s set in stone, and at the end, once you deliver, your job is done.

But Product is not like that, the only thing that you can try to set in stone is the problem statement, but even that requires a lot of research and testing with potential solutions to be sure that indeed it’s a problem.

Once you know the problem exists, It is time to understand how you solve or how to make potential solutions into something viable, but… you don’t create a cannon to kill a fly, you rather try to minimize effort and maximize value. Value and viability are your responsibilities as Product Manager. You define what is the minimum that creates the maximum value, and only then you create.

It may sound like a project sometimes, and Indeed it looks like it for a certain time, and it’s not wrong to say that a Product comes after a Project. However, there is a very important step after you launch your solution which makes one completely different from the other: the outcome.

The biggest difference between Product and Project

The outcome is how you understand if you are indeed creating value, and you do that by checking the results created because of your product, the metrics that it impacts, and even the metrics that it has. With that, you will understand if you are creating value for your market and if the problem is really being solved.

Based on the data available, you can have insights into how to improve your Product and create even more value for your users. You can also gain insight on potential new products that are enabled by your current one. Once you realise, you will have opportunities all over the place which can enable your Product to live forever… that, my friend, It’s the biggest difference between a Project and a Product.

A product is something meant to live forever, and as Product Manager, we need to identify how to make that happen. We need to observe what has changed and foresee what will change in the behaviour of the market that requires us to adapt our product, keeping an eye out for opportunities worth chasing. And we always need to deliver something meaningful that delights our users.

Want to be a Product Manager? Join Us!

It seems like a lot, right? And indeed it is, but the Product world is as loveable as it is complicated, and the more you learn about it, the more you love it. If you are willing to change your career to Product Management, but have no idea where to start, reach out, I will be pleased to help you.

And for those who are already a Product Manager and are chasing new challenges, check out our vacancies, we may have something for you.

This is an opinion article and doesn't necessarily reflect the Volkswagen Group view.