As a hiring manager, you have a lot on your plate. Finding the right talent to fill your business needs can be a daunting task, especially when it comes to roles like product manager and project manager. These two positions might seem similar, but they require different skill sets and offer unique advantages to businesses.

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between a product manager and a project manager, the collaborative relationship between the two, and when to choose one over the other. Let’s hop in!

Product manager vs. project manager, explained

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First, let’s start by understanding the differences between a product manager and a project manager:

  • A product manager is responsible for developing a strategy for a company’s product or service, defining its features, and ensuring its success in the market
  • A project manager is responsible for overseeing the execution of a specific project and managing its scope, timeline, and budget
    In tech, you’ll most likely find a product manager working on the company’s software products, with one product manager usually responsible for a single product. A background in coding or computer science might help a product manager do their job better, but it isn’t usually a requirement.

In a tech context, the more general “project manager” title might be more synonymous with a technical project manager title found at non-tech companies. The big difference here is that a technical project manager should have a strong background in tech and be familiar with Agile project management methodologies like scrum. Again, coding knowledge is rarely a strict requirement, but a general understanding of how applications and software systems work is typically expected.

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How do product and project managers collaborate?

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To put it simply, a product manager sets the direction for a product, while a project manager ensures it’s delivered on time and within budget. As you might imagine, there’s a necessary collaborative relationship between the two.

A product manager will work with a project manager to define the goals and milestones for a product’s development, while a project manager will ensure the processes, resources, and team members needed to achieve those goals are in place. There is sometimes overlap in the responsibilities of each role, but ultimately, their work should complement each other to bring a product to market successfully.

Product manager salary

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According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a product manager is $111,232 per year, though it is possible to see salaries upwards of $240,000 per year, depending on location and experience. Big tech companies like Meta and Google tend to offer the highest salaries for these positions, so keep in mind that salary estimates on the higher end may be skewed by their deep pockets. Salary expectations at a smaller company will naturally be lower.

Project manager salary

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By comparison, project managers make significantly less. The average salary for a project manager in the United States is $87,184 per year, according to Indeed, though that number can be as high as $135,000-plus. Again, this range depends on years of experience and location — a San Francisco-based candidate with 10 years of experience will make more than an entry level candidate based in Kansas City. Additional certifications can increase a candidate’s bargaining power as well.

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How to hire product and project managers

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When it comes to hiring for each role, there are a few key characteristics to look for in candidates.

Product manager

For a product manager, they should have a strong background in market research, product development, and business strategy. They should also have experience working with cross-functional teams and using data to drive decisions. Here are some skills to look for:

  • Verbal and written communication (technical writing is a plus)
  • Storytelling
  • Critical thinking
  • Data and statistical analysis
  • UX design
  • Solid understanding of software development processes
  • Project management
  • Market research
  • Familiarity software tools like Jira (bug tracking), Zendesk (customer support), Productboard (product management), Miro and Figma (visual collaboration and product mockups/prototypes), and Google Analytics (web/app analytics)

Professional certifications are another good thing to look for in potential candidates. Product management certifications from organizations like Product HQ, Product Development and Management Association (PDMA), and Product School are good examples.

Project manager

For a project manager, they should have experience leading teams and managing complex projects with tight deadlines. They should also be skilled in risk management and stakeholder engagement.

  • Verbal and written communication (technical writing a plus)
  • Time management
  • People management
  • Risk management
  • Problem solving
  • Budget management
  • Conflict management
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Experience with project management software tools like Asana, Smartsheet, and ClickUp

Likewise, look for certifications when hiring for a project manager. Some reputable certifications include Project Management Professional from the Project Management Institute (PMI) and Certified Scrum Master from the Scrum Alliance.

Product managers and project managers: better together

At the end of the day, choosing between a product manager and a project manager is about understanding the unique needs of your business and the product or service you’re developing. While a project manager can help execute a specific project, a product manager can help ensure success in the market. Remember to consider the cost, certifications, and hiring qualifications for each role, and work to foster a collaborative relationship between the two positions.

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About Forrest Brown
Forrest Brown is the Content Manager at NerdRabbit. An AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner, he lives in Atlanta with his wife and two cats.

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