Product Management versus Project Management

December 24th, 2018 by inflectra

As I was concluding a capstone class on project management, there was a question from a few students on whether there is any scope of career growth for project management as a profession with the increased focus on agile principles. Questioning further on the root cause of this concern was the fact that agile approaches, such as Scrum, does not call for a project manager role and the focus is only on product management. In a brief attempt to address this ongoing confusions thinking product and project management are mutually exclusive disciplines with product management slaying the project management field, I explain here the ongoing need for the symbiotic relationship between these two disciplines.


The experts in the field agree that a project is a temporary endeavor to create a unique product, service, or result. Inherent in this definition lies an inexorable relationship between these two disciplines. The project management is a set of processes, tools, and techniques that is indispensable to bring a product into the market. Therefore, a product cannot be delivered without the strategic focus on execution that only the discipline of the project management can provide through the phases of initiation, planning, execution, control and closure.

Does that mean the product management is a subset of the project management? Definitely not! I say this with so much certainty because project management is temporary in nature unlike product management that has a longer time horizon. Consider bringing to market a new hybrid car that runs purely on water! The product management may focus on generating the ideas, evaluating the alternatives, assessing the feasibility, and creating a business case at the beginning. Hence, the product management will have to think of a strategic road map of scouting the external and internal environments by applying the Porter's 5-force model. This 5-force model involves the availability of substitute products, bargaining power of the buyers (price consciousness of buyers), bargaining power of suppliers,those that supply goods), rivalry among the established firms, and the threat of new entrants.

Finally, after all the commercial, technical, and operational considerations have been addressed, the business case from product management becomes the starting point for project management to intervene initiating the project charter putting together the scope statement followed by the work breakdown structure and the sequence of activities that need to happen for bringing the hybrid car to the market. Now, if project managers only become tactical, then, they lose the ability to question the inherent assumptions to avoid a strategic failure. This fundamental need is why the businesses label the areas the need to work on as "capital project selection." The "capital" adjective here is a strategic decision making to ensure that the investment of funds, time, and resources are used to maximize the organizational value.

Project Management is Like a Phoenix

It is therefore evident that the product management defines what and where we should be doing while the project management tells when and how we could be getting there. But, the project management is like the Phoenix bird that ceases to exist as soon as that need of product management through the project management has been served. However, as the product management continues its journey through its lifecycle of development, growth, maturity, and retirement, there will be additional needs that will come up and the Phoenix bird revives itself again. Therefore, the good product managers will know that they need strategic project managers as brainstorming partners and similarly the good project mangers will have more strategic thinking beyond the organizational context to support the product managers. Each profession, as a result, has a symbiotic relationship.

Further Reading

For more information on this topic, please refer to the Inflectra whitepaper on Agile Product Management.

project management product management agile agile methodologies

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