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Project Manager vs Product Manager

Project Manager vs Product Manager

Last Updated on September 30, 2022 by DMEditor

Though project managers and product managers often work together, they have very different roles. At its most basic, a project manager helps move along a project until it’s complete, while a product manager is responsible for the product success throughout its entire lifecycle.

In this article, we’ll talk about the roles of a project manager vs product manager, including their main responsibilities and the unique challenges they face. We’ll also clarify the difference between a project and a product, compare expected salaries, and briefly cover what it takes to get into these roles.

Let’s get started!

Bottom Line Up Front

A product manager determines the goals and vision for a product, whether that’s a physical product or a digital one. A project manager often creates and manages a project to reach the product manager’s goals. While product management requires a lot of ideation and thinking, project management requires taking actionable steps. Project managers also tend to earn quite a bit less than product managers, though salary will vary based on experience and time in the role.

Main Differences Between a Project Manager vs Product Manager

The main differences between a Project Manager vs Product Manager are:

  1. A product manager’s main role is thinking (and ideation), whereas a project manager spends more time taking action.
  2. Product managers deal with services or items, whereas project managers deal with processes and tasks.
  3. A product manager determines the goal for a product, whereas the project manager is tasked with achieving that goal.
  4. Product management doesn’t have fixed beginning and end dates, whereas project management usually does have scheduled start and stop dates.
  5. Project managers make approximately $77K per year, whereas product managers earn about $127K per year.

A Brief Overview of How Project Managers and Product Managers Work Together

We’re going to dive deeper into both product and project management in this article, but first, let’s lay the groundwork for what each role does and how they work alongside one another:

  • Product Manager Role: Sets the goals and vision for a product. This role involves a lot of thinking.
  • Project Manager Role: A project leader who accomplishes the product manager’s goals. This role involves a lot of doing.

It will also help to clarify the difference between a product and a project:

  • Product: A service or physical item that meets a customer’s need. Examples of products include clothing, furniture, mobile apps, and website design.
  • Project: The process required to achieve a goal. In other words, the steps required for the project manager to fulfill the product manager’s objective. Examples of a project include building a house or launching new software.

Product Manager Role

Since project management relies on product management, we’re going to begin by discussing what a product manager does.

As mentioned, the product manager is responsible for a product’s success for its entire lifecycle. In the beginning, the product manager will create a product vision. They’re also in charge of updating the product and always ensuring it meets customer needs. The management of a product will continue until that product is retired. One of the biggest differences between product and project management is that product management doesn’t usually have a defined beginning and end.

It’s important to understand that the product manager role can change depending on the company. At a large organization, the product manager may be in charge of managing a team. But at a small organization, they may be more hands-on, carrying out tasks like performing market research. A product manager may take on some project management responsibilities at times.

Common Responsibilities of a Product Manager

  • Defines the metrics required for a product to succeed.
  • Improves products based on research, including market analysis.
  • Monitors the competition.
  • Tests and monitors the product’s features, particularly newly added features.
  • Tracks the product performance.
  • Understands the customer’s needs; explains those needs to the product team.
  • Works with other teams to create a product strategy, such as product design, engineering, and marketing.

Common Challenges for Product Managers

It’s not easy to create and launch a new product! Product managers have a lot of challenges they face, including:

  • Adhering to a strict schedule when launching a product, so there aren’t any delays.
  • Figuring out why a product fails and correcting the issues. If a product doesn’t perform as expected, the product manager has to determine if something can be done to fix it or if the product has to be discontinued.
  • Making sure that the different departments that are working together are communicating effectively.
  • Working with different vendors to source the materials that are needed.

Even the best and most experienced product managers can sometimes bump up against major challenges. However, working with a project manager can help smooth out some of these hiccups.

Project Manager Role

Instead of being responsible for a product, a project manager is responsible for a project throughout its lifecycle. As we talked about earlier, a project is a set of tasks that aim to achieve a goal. Projects can be large (like putting up a new building) or small (like rolling out a new digital tool).

The project manager has to keep a lot of plates spinning. They have to build their project team, create a schedule (and mini-schedules for deliverables along the way), manage the budget, and stay in touch with stakeholders, among other jobs.

Common Responsibilities of a Project Manager

  • Collaborate and stay in communication with leadership and stakeholders.
  • Decide how project changes will be handled; manage changes as they occur.
  • Figure out a project’s budget, scope, resource management, and timeline.
  • Keep teams motivated and on schedule.
  • Tracks tasks and schedules using project management software.

Common Challenges for Project Managers

There’s a lot for project managers to keep straight, and even the best of the bunch is bound to face some of these struggles:

  • Collaborating with product managers so that everyone’s on the same page.
  • Ensuring that projects stay on track so that timetables and deliverables are adhered to.
  • Problem-solving as projects (inevitably) change, plus letting stakeholders know what’s going on.
  • Staying on top of market trends so that the team has the latest resources and tools at the ready.
  • Tracking and mitigating possible project risks.

Depending on who else is part of the team, the project manager may only be responsible for troubleshooting some of these issues…or all of the responsibility could fall on their shoulders!

Who Earns More: Project Manager vs. Product Manager

According to Indeed, as of September 2022, the average base salary for a project manager in the United States is $77,174. The pay range is from $74,759 to $80,292.

According to Glassdoor, as of December 2021, product managers in the United States early an estimated $127,438 per year. While the pay range may be from $76K to $216K per year, it’s most likely in the $97K to $169K range. Note that that’s a much broader range than the salary for a project manager, but it carries the potential to earn a lot more, too.

How to Become a Project or Product Manager

Assistant manager

A project manager will normally begin by working in the industry. For example, a person who becomes a software project manager may have worked in software development for a few years prior. Another common stepping stone to becoming a project manager is working as a project coordinator or assistant project manager.

While some people can land a product management job immediately following college, experience is often built up over time while the individual works toward that role. It’s typical for product managers to have a business or marketing background, as they need to understand the world of business and customer needs first.

5 Alternative Roles to Project Manager and Product Manager

Whether you like the worlds of project and product management, but these roles don’t quite fit what you’re looking for, or you’re hoping to change careers and use the skills you built as a project or product manager, here are a few alternatives to consider:

Business Developer

Business Developer

Both project and product management often require developing processes that are used repeatedly – or adapted for a specific project. A similar approach is taken in business development: business activities, production methods, and policies are developed to improve how a business functions.


Maybe you love the role of project or product management, but you don’t want to work for any one company. You may want to consider consulting. Companies that want help but don’t want to hire in-house or already have an in-house team that requires guidance may prefer working with a consultant.

General Manager

The general manager (GM) of a food service business, retail store, or business office uses a lot of the skills required for project management – being in charge of staff, communicating with different employees and departments to keep everyone on the same page, and assigning roles based on availability and strengths.

Marketing Director

Marketing Director

Product managers often work on product strategy with the marketing team. If this is an aspect of product management that’s enjoyable, a great branch-off of the role is to go directly into the marketing field.

Program Manager

A great alternative to project management is becoming a program manager. In this role, the programs and projects that are conducted are for the betterment of the company, such as getting everyone on board when switching to new technology.


Question: Who gets paid more, a product manager or a project manager?

Answer: In general, product managers make more money than project managers. In the U.S., project managers make between $74,759 to $80,292, with an average salary of $77,174. This is considerably lower than U.S. product managers, who earn $127,438 per year on average. However, the pay range for this role is large, and it can be as low as $76K (or as high as $216K) per year.

Question: Who is higher than a project manager?

Answer: Typically, a project management position is considered mid-level. Depending on the company’s size, the project manager may work alone, or they may report to a director of program management or a senior project manager.

Question: Can I be a product manager without experience?

Answer: You may land a product management position without prior experience. There’s no one path to becoming a product manager, and you may qualify for the role depending on what the company is looking for. Also, since there’s no certification required to enter this field, the barrier to entry is lower than other positions requiring some certificate.

Final Thoughts About Project Managers vs. Product Managers

As you can see, while similar and even interconnected at times, the job duties of a project manager and a product manager differ greatly in everything from responsibilities to pay scale. Project managers are focused on how and when a project will take place, while product managers spend their time figuring out what a product should be to meet customers’ needs.

Consider the main issues you’re facing if you’re wondering whether your team needs a project or product manager. If you’re having a difficult time keeping projects on schedule and staying on top of important objectives, a project manager may be able to help. On the other hand, if you’re having difficulty with product production and releasing new products, then a product manager is the best role to add to the team.

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