Jun 19 2015

Project management vs. product management: you need them both.

Most software development projects fail.

It’s an unpleasant truth, but a truth nonetheless.

There are ways you can hedge against failure and set yourself up for success. For example, you can invest time in validating your idea before you get started, you can translate your idea into an MVP and build iteratively, and you can hire a development agency that’s built hundreds of successful products before yours.

But still, many projects will fail, and there are hundreds of reasons why that happens.

A lot of people attribute failure to project management.

After all, if a project is behind schedule or over budget, these are objective measures that often fall under the purview of the project manager. It’s easy to blame them.

But the reality is that this perspective is far too simplistic, and often misses a huge underlying reason for many, if not most, project failures that I’ve seen: poor product (not project) management.

The difference between product management and project management

Project management is a tactical role. It’s your job to ensure that, every single day, things move like clockwork and deadlines are hit. You oversee the array of moving pieces -- designers, developers, clients, marketers, and anyone else involved -- and keep everyone on course.

Product management is a strategic role. As a product manager, you have a huge impact on the success or failure of a software project, because you’re the one who defines exactly what the product is, and who it’s for. That’s the mandate that the project manager and the rest of the team then follow.

As a product manager, you need to make tough calls about the scope of the project. You need to keep the application focused on the users, know when the product is ready to ship for testing, know when you should hold the product back because a particular feature isn’t polished enough, and a whole lot more.

You need to look at the long-term roadmap and business goals of the company or client, and balance those future plans with the need for a quick launch, as well as the need to bob, weave and change course as feedback comes in.

There are two important things to note about the product management role:

  1. It’s an underappreciated one; far fewer projects have dedicated product managers than project managers, and many think that they simply don’t need an expert in that role.
  2. 100% of successful projects have good product management, whether intentional or not.

Because of that, you can give yourself a massive advantage by ensuring that your product team has a skilled product manager.

If you don’t have the skills and experience to perform the role effectively yourself, then hire a product manager, and give them the resources and authority to make the tough decisions that will make or break the project’s success.

Nick Kishfy