I think it’s time to put this confusion to rest. Most people assume that Project Manager and Product Manager are a same thing. They really aren’t. More so, beware of a company that thinks that the two are pretty similar, if you’re looking for a job.
Product Management isn’t formally taught in college. That’s why people still get confused what the profession is really about. Most people who become Product Managers come from two backgrounds: design and coding. ‘Coders’ create Androids, ‘Designers’ create iOSes, if you follow my metaphor. 😉 Both types are needed, they just approach product from different perspective. I, for example, come from a designer’s background, my coding skills are pretty soft, but I feel at home when it comes to UI and UX.
In short, I would say that Product Manager is someone who does a lot of user research and data gathering. Someone who makes sure that product is successful and easy to use by its target audience. That all stakeholders of the product are on the same page, and there is no ambiguity and miscommunication. In a way, in Product Management, the product is the boss, and PM answers to the user and the KPI numbers. Yes, there is a great part of a Product Manager’s job that includes project management, but it’s a part, not the job itself.
Project Manager is someone who manages a set project. There is usually a set system that a Project Manager follows. His or her main job is to make sure that every task is on track and deadlines are met. In Project Management, a PM is sort of a boss, because he or she manages people who are involved in the project. There usually no Product Management on the Project Manager’s list of duties.
If you see a job descriptions that reads something like “We’re looking for a Product Manager, and his main responsibilities will include communications with the client, doing SCRUM stand-ups with the development team and making sure the project is on the right track from beginning to completion”, there is a great chance that the company is actually looking for a Project Manager. If you are or want to be a product Manager, be aware that in this kind of position you’ll be mostly doing organizational tasks that aren’t exactly related to Product, but more to connecting people and managing development. If you’re looking to being someone who builds and shapes user experience into a demanded and intuitively working machine, who takes a product and OWNS it from the very fundamentals, who changes and optimizes already working features and comes up with new ones, who makes sure that everyone involved in creative process from the user to the developers and marketing team understands and likes what they’re getting, then you shouldn’t compromise and deprive yourself from something you really want to do. It may not be easy, and it gets really entangled some times, but it’s really worth it.
P.S. If you see a job description that asks for a Product Manager whose job responsibilities will be coding, just skip that ad, they’re looking for someone, anyone, who’ll do everything, and they most likely are not even sure what that everything is, they just want it done.