Products and projects

Products vs. projects

Sometimes there can be some confusion around products versus projects and, especially, product management versus project management. They sound so similar, they must be the same, right?

No.

An entire book could be written about the differences (and I might just do that someday!). Meanwhile, this post is meant to be a quick and shallow dive into how they differ and yet how they overlap and work together.

  1. Projects begin and end. Products begin but do not end. Take a look at the illustration above. Imagine magnifying the solid line of the product. If you did, you would see the series of dashed lines that are depicted below. This is a simple way to see the difference between projects and products, yet they are at one level one and the same. Because projects create, and then continue to contribute to, a product. The intent of a product is to not go away, but to live on and keep getting better. Whereas a project is designed to end. In fact, we often dislike when a project takes longer than it should! We want to move on. Projects need to end.
  2. Product and project management tasks are entirely different, yet are in sync. I’ve never really considered myself a project manager even though I have had to do some of that work at various times. Project management is very task, detail, and process focused. As it should be — when project managers are good at these things, they help projects move along and keep people happy. But product management is very business, customer, and relationship focused. This work is done upstream of projects, and done in advance in order to define and inform projects.
  3. Projects managers ❤ product managers. Ideally, a product manager is a project manager’s best friend forever (and vice-versa). Product managers create the map and itinerary, and project managers help drive the team to the destination. The point of product management is to create reasons and measures for doing project work, and then project managers and the teams they manage are better grounded in why their work adds value to the product.

I’ll probably expand on these relationships more in future posts (or that book, if I ever get around to writing it).  Meanwhile, others have written some great books about product management, project management, and the business of design. Four that I recommend:

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