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Naturally when someone finds themselves drifting from their job description into someone else’s, the reaction can be that “this isn’t what I signed up for”. Even as Brainmates graces the internet with a masterful piece about product managers getting pulled into project management, Forrester writes a post about project managers moving up the value chain into product management.
The two roles are like peanut butter and jelly – they may get smooshed together into a sloppy mess, but many hungry executives don’t understand the finesse in the intricate balance between the two, how to optimize each or how the flavors play on each other. They’re just making a sandwich.
One of the key arguments here is to clearly define the difference between project and product management. I’ll throw mine out there – product managers are focused on what to build when, and project managers are focused on how to build it and who is going to develop or provide which parts when.
I can also share the specific priorities and tasks our company recommends as product versus project management.
Now that that’s done, I don’t really think defining it is the core of the issue. Doesn’t everyone involved know – approximately – the difference between the two roles? Would it make a difference if one company understood the roles a little different than the next? Obviously the two positions overlap enough, that there is a need to specifically distinguish them.
I have two theories on the common roots of the issue, so lets peel back the layers of the onion on the first:
Have you ever had an all-jelly sandwich? It’s nasty.
Especially during a time of economic difficulty, organizations feel they need an “all heads down” approach to slim costs and work harder and leaner. It’s a dire mistake that can cause the company to dovetail further if they keep working even harder on the wrong products. This puts you in a tough spot, because the situation “fix” is to get management to value strategic work again.
The other, much less grandiose possibility, is simply that the organization doesn’t have a systematic hand-off method to pass off the strategic work the product manager does to a team that will execute on that strategy. In this case the product manager ends up “owning” the entire cycle because they have intimate knowledge that’s too difficult to pass off to a project manager.
Obviously as providers of collaboration software, we encounter this one a lot. And it’s a lot easier to fix than changing the CEO’s mind about the company’s strategic priorities (good luck on that one). Sometimes the only reason product managers end up “owning” the entire product lifecycle is because there’s no efficient and systematic way to hand off the product to an execution team.
Create a systematic hand off process with: