Product and project – how do they differ and how to grow from the second into the first

We give an answer to the age-old question. vyrasti-v-pervogo-d3f4b52.jpg” alt=”Product and project — how do they differ and how to grow from the second to the first” />

Yuri Brankovsky Product manager, mentor and jury member of Emerge and EPAM Engineering hackathons Jam.

The pandemic has accelerated digitalization, and the demand for IT specialists has only increased“Tough hunting is underway”: why the demand for IT specialists and their salaries has sharply increased in Russia/Forbes. And this applies to both applied professions and managerial ones. Among the latter, the most prominent are product and project managers, who are often referred to simply as products and projects.

And although both positions have existed for a long time, there is still confusion about what these specialists do and what is the difference .

What is a product and how it differs from a project

One can argue for a long time what a product is, the interpretation depends on the context. Usually, this term is understood as the result of some activity. It can be your resume, dish or phone app.

In the field of IT, the need to have some value for the end user is often added to the definition. Not all companies achieve this, but they strive for this. Thus, a product is the result of an activity that potentially solves a user's problem or task.

A project is a time-limited enterprise aimed at creating a unique product, service, or service. A product may be the result of a project, but the other way around is never the case. At the same time, product development can last forever, while the project has a clear deadline.

For example, the result of a site creation project will be the site itself. And its completion may be the next project. Product development is a whole set of projects, and a company can have many different products and projects.

What a product manager does and is responsible for

The product manager is responsible for the result and determines the final look product. This specialist is a true entrepreneur and innovator. He designs, builds, launches, and refines the product to improve business performance with new features and capabilities.

The area of ​​responsibility of the product is highly dependent on the company. In a startup, a manager can be in charge of almost everything. Except perhaps attracting investments, this is most often the task of the founder. In a larger firm, the product is often only concerned with a specific part of the product, such as a website.

In some cases, the term product owner is used. This is a manager with extended powers. The name appeared in the Scrum development methodology and rather describes the role in the team.

The main task of the manager is to accelerate the receipt of the result and maximize it. This means that at different stages of product development, a specialist will have to deal with different things. So, at the beginning of development, the product will explore the market, the audience, create prototypes, give tasks to programmers.

As the project develops, the manager will have to analyze data, build a team, engage in user acquisition and even financial planning. Each of these tasks requires a variety of skills, from time management to the ability to communicate with people. And of course, you can't do without critical thinking: the manager endlessly makes decisions, and they must be effective.

In the process of work, you will have to constantly study and learn something new: the product develops, and tasks change with it. That is why you can write a separate article about the required product skills. It’s easier to remember that within a product, the manager is responsible for everything, but primarily for the result. And if he requires the skill of distributing brochures near the subway, then the product will take care of that.

What a project manager does and is responsible for

Unlike other managers, such as accounts or partner solutions specialists, a project is responsible for the implementation of the project, and not for creativity or specific tasks. Such a specialist does not need to look for new clients or sell anything.

He is responsible for specific projects. The manager plans resources, controls development, solves problems that arise in the process, and communicates with all participants so that everyone has the latest information and no one slows down the common cause. The project manager must get the desired result on time and within the planned budget.

How they interact with each other

The product determines what needs to be done for a specific task, and the project takes over its implementation. The first throws coal, and the second is responsible for the proper operation of the furnace. If the product stops giving tasks, the fire will go out and there will be no result. And if the stove breaks, it will not be able to burn the accumulated coal. In addition, the tasks set by the product should bring them closer to the result. If you pour water instead of coal, the flame will go out and the stove will stop working.

Suppose the team is faced with the task of launching a website. The product will determine how it will look like, what texts will be on the pages, how the registration process and communication with users will be arranged. And then the project must complete the site creation project within the time limit.

Why it is important not to confuse their roles in the company

The goal of any business is to make a profit. Therefore, it is important for the company owner and senior management to distinguish between products and projects. The former are responsible for the composition of the product, business indicators and results. The second – for the implementation of the project on time. If the specialists are confused, there is a chance that the person will not cope with the task.

So, when a company needs to create a new product that will increase profits or reduce costs, it is important to hire a product. If you entrust the task to the project, there is a great risk that the project will be completed on time, but the result will have no value. The project will not conduct interviews with users, research competitors, calculate economic parameters. And as a result, it will launch a product that the market does not need.

And if you need to implement a project in which tasks, goals and deadlines are clearly defined, you need to hire a project. He will competently and efficiently bring the enterprise to the result indicated in advance. The product manager, on the other hand, will most likely be bored with managing such projects – such people have an entrepreneurial mindset. As a result, the manager will either leave on his own, or the project will seriously grow in size.

How to grow from a project manager into a product manager

Compared, for example, with a programmer, it is often easier for a project to become product manager because management skills are important for both of these positions. Developers usually have less management experience.

However, the ability to lead is not enough for a product position. It is necessary to learn and develop the entrepreneurial mindset. Try this.

Focus on results

Starting products often list what they did at work on their resumes. For example, “launched the site.” But the process is not important, but the result. This sometimes requires a change in thinking and approach to solving problems. It is not the launch of the site itself that is important, but the specific result – “attracted so many customers with the help of lead generation on the site.”

Try to take more responsibility and meet expectations

Products are hired to improve performance and increase efficiency. However, no one will explain how to achieve this. And it is important to be ready to take responsibility for the result. Both negative and positive.

If you have such an opportunity, think about what can be improved, for example, on the website of the company you work for. Communicate with users, calculate the cost of implementation and draw up a development plan. And then come to the manager: “I did a study and found out that if we improve such and such a section on the site, we can increase the number of potential customers by such and such percent with the help of such and such solutions. Here's the cost of development, I suggest you give it a try.”

Negotiation is another critical skill for a product manager.

After convincing your boss, implement the project, and then analyze the results. Even if something does not work out, it is important to gain experience – it will still come in handy.

Study business cases and develop insight

This can be done at courses or conferences. Also try to communicate with products from other companies and read books about successful businesses. Just do not forget that it is not the process that is important, but the result. Thoughtlessly studying cases is pointless. It is necessary to understand the logic of decisions: how a sequence of actions led to a certain result.

Learn to analyze information and product metrics

Read books on statistics (for example, Naked Statistics), get acquainted with hermeneutics – the science of interpreting information. And product metrics, such as LTV, GMV, unit economy, CAC, Retention, CR, should turn from an incomprehensible sequence of letters into important data.

It is also necessary to understand finances. Business indicators are decomposed into product metrics.

Train creative thinking

The product has to constantly generate hypotheses and ideas – without them, the product will not develop. To develop creativity, try to look for non-standard and more promising solutions to business problems, learn new skills, train your imagination. There are many ways.

Things to remember

  1. Product manager is a boosted version of a project. It is important for the first to have the skills and abilities of the second, but not vice versa. Thus, the project is not required to conduct research or deal with finances.
  2. The product and the project work in conjunction. The first determines what exactly needs to be done and why, is responsible for the result. The second must achieve the designated result within the specified time.
  3. It is important not to confuse products and projects, because different specialists are needed for different stages of the process. A new task without clear criteria is a product; a definite idea with clear terms and conditions is a project.
  4. To grow from a project into a product, one must learn to work in a situation of uncertainty, take on more responsibility and gain real experience.