Software Project Manager vs. Software Product Manager

Custom software projects are notoriously complex. There are many tasks involved, and everything must be well-coordinated to keep the project on track. Two roles, in particular, are vital to the success of custom software development. While they may sound similar, software project managers and software product managers have distinct responsibilities. Read on to learn the differences and what to know for your software project. 

Primary Responsibilities of Project Managers

Project managers are responsible for the logistics of the project, such as the budget, due dates, and who will be performing which tasks and when. They are responsible for managing and documenting all resources used for a project — primarily the people involved. For example, they are responsible for knowing which days people will be offline and who has ownership of each task. 

Project managers also help develop and supervise the team. Many are Scrum masters, meaning that they deliver Agile coaching and plan sprints to help their team perform their best. 

Overall, project managers are critical for keeping all of a project’s resources balanced, helping avoid budget bloat or delays in deliverables.

Primary Responsibilities of Product Managers

Product Managers are your main point of contact. They help you form your product idea, clarify your requirements, prioritize desired features, and develop your strategy to go to market. Then, they translate those details into tasks for the software engineers and designers to perform. Essentially, they liaise between you and the production team.

The product manager also works with the Software Architect to clear technical blockers. Once the developers have produced the code, they supervise the quality control and security review. Working closely with the team, the product manager tests environmental releases and designs the project roadmap.

Throughout the process, they maintain close communication with you to make sure all features are “signed off” and ready for production. They then give the go-ahead to push live updates.

There is some overlap with the project manager, as the product manager helps translate your request into sitemaps and task overviews. They’ll also communicate with you about changes in scope or budget that require approval before the team can move forward. 

What Is Typically Misunderstood About The 2 Roles?

Many clients assume the project manager can do the job of a product manager. To the untrained eye, the roles do seem quite similar. While there are definitely some people out there that can do both, they are different roles with distinct skill sets.

The project manager keeps the project on track in terms of time, budget, and Human Resources. They’re like the construction foreman for a house build.

The product manager is more like the architect. They help you figure out what the product will be and how the users may experience it. They also ensure the team is working on the right priorities to ensure the project’s success. By regularly communicating with both the project manager and you, the product manager helps get the software ready for market.

Are Both Roles Necessary for Every Project?

 Yes, every custom software project requires both a project manager and a product manager.

Without a project manager, the team may not perceive how much of the budget they are using or which tasks need to be completed first. That can introduce scope creep, which can affect timelines and launch dates, and increase the overall project spending. 

The project manager provides the peace of mind that your budget will be respected. They’ll also keep the project timeline on track so the marketing team can plan the launch. Best of all, you don’t need to manage the development team yourself. The product manager supervises their efforts and documents the process — allowing you to witness the pulse of the project. 

Without a product manager, the team’s resources may go toward tasks that aren’t necessary for the minimum viable product. They may spend precious time and money on developing too many features or designing the wrong experience for those features. For example, your initial feature request may cost a lot of time and resources. The product manager can find an alternative that saves you money while delivering the same value to your customer.

Also, the product manager must set expectations. As they understand the designer and engineer role, they can determine what they need to do their job. Otherwise, engineering and design time may be wasted on countless revisions. The product manager also helps you identify the crucial data and metrics to track the project’s success and plan the next stages for development. 

All that said, it is important that both roles know their responsibilities so they are not stepping on each other’s toes. There are also costs associated with having both roles, so that cost must be accounted for in your budget and used with discipline.

Wrapping Up

Both a product manager and a project manager are vital to the success of your custom software project. One handles the logistics, the other manages the design and development. Together, they ensure that the team performs their tasks on time, under budget, and in line with your vision.