Product Manager vs. Project Manager: What’s the Difference?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Understand the differences and similarities between product managers and project managers and how they might overlap. This guide includes how they work together, expected salaries, and skills and qualifications that are required for each.

[Featured Image]: Product Manager consulting with the Project Manager about the latest project.

A product manager is in charge of a product's success from the beginning to end of its lifecycle, whilst project managers shepherd projects to completion.

Product manager vs. project manager: What do they do?

Product managers and project managers often work together, but they have separate and distinct roles. Whilst a product manager sets the vision, goals, and business trajectory of a product, a project manager leads the many projects to make those goals a reality. So if the product manager is a strategic thinker, the project manager is more of a doer.

It might help if we distinguish products from projects. A product refers to any service or item that an organisation creates to serve a customer need. Products can be physical, like furniture or clothing, or digital, like an app, or a video feature on a website. A project, on the other hand, is a set of tasks completed to achieve an outcome. A project's goal could be to create or maintain a product—like constructing a house, or rolling out a new software update.

What does a product manager do?

A product manager is in charge of a product from the beginning of its lifecycle to its end. This means they set the vision of a product, direct any updates, and make sure the product is filling customer needs until the product is retired. Unlike project management, product management usually doesn't have a clear beginning and end.

At larger organisations, product managers might take on high-level work like managing a team. In smaller organisations, a product manager might do more hands-on work, such as market research, or even some project management. 

Because product manager is a relatively new role and can change from company to company and team to team, specific tasks can vary widely. As a general rule, a product manager does the following:

  • Defines key metrics for product success

  • Understands consumer needs and relays them to the product team

  • Works with cross-functional teams—like engineering, design, and marketing—to develop and pursue product strategy

  • Finds ways to improve or grow a product through market analysis and other research

  • Keeps an eye on product performance

  • Tests and monitors new product features

  • Monitors competitors

What does a project manager do?

A project manager oversees projects from start to finish. Projects are a set of tasks designed to achieve a specific goal. Projects can be big, like constructing a new building, or smaller, like rolling out a new tool for a team to use. A project manager is somebody who plans these projects by creating teams, determining schedules, managing budgets, and communicating with stakeholders until each project is completed. There is generally a clearly defined beginning and end to a project.

Project managers can do the following specific tasks:

  • Determine key goalposts like project scope, timeline, and budget estimates

  • Collaborate and communicate extensively with leadership and stakeholders

  • Create and maintain processes for changes to the project

  • Use project management software to keep track of tasks and schedules

  • Make sure teams are collaborating well, and staying motivated and on schedule

How do product managers and project managers work together?

Product managers and project managers often work together. To give an idea of what this would actually look like, let’s look at an example:

Imagine a company that sells furniture online. They want to launch an app that customers can use to browse products on mobile devices. The company might hire a product manager to be in charge of the app’s development. The product manager will define the goals of the app, decide what features should be in it, orchestrate a team of product developers, and monitor new challenges as they arise.

The company might then hire a project manager to turn these goals into reality. Let’s say the product manager determines that people like to discuss with family members before making a purchase, and wants to make this a key part of the app. A project manager might lead a project to roll out a feature on the app that will allow customers to share furniture they like through a messaging platform. The project manager may put together a team dedicated to the new feature, set a schedule for production, and make sure the team completes the project on time and within budget. In the meantime, they might be communicating with the product manager a few times a week with updates on progress.

Who earns more: Product manager or project manager?

Generally, product managers make slightly more than project managers in the UK. The average product manager’s base salary in the UK is £53,012  a year, whilst a project manager in the UK makes an average base salary of £46,201,  according to December 2021 data from Glassdoor. 

Product owner vs. product manager vs. project manager

In addition to product managers and project managers, you may have heard of product owners. A product owner’s role is to make sure a Scrum team is aligned with the product’s priorities by managing the product backlog (that’s the to-do list of a development team). This makes sure that individual projects are aligned with the overall product goals. So whilst the product manager is in charge of the overall product, the product owner sits on a smaller team that is working on one aspect of the product. 

So where do project managers fit in here? A project manager often works with product owners within the same project team. A product owner is one of two designated roles in an Agile or Scrum team, the other being the Scrum master, a type of project manager. The two roles generally coexist on a development team. 

Becoming a product manager vs. project manager

You’ll find that there’s a lot of overlap between the paths of project and product managers. However, there are key differences too.

Career paths for product managers and project managers

The roads to becoming a product or project manager have many similarities—project managers can, in fact, go on to become product managers.

Whilst some people might become product managers as soon as they graduate, it’s common to build up experience and skills beforehand. Since product managers need a good sense of business and customer needs, you might see product managers with backgrounds in business operations or marketing. Product managers might go on to become senior product managers or vice presidents of product.

Project managers on the other hand, often get their start in industry work. For example, a software development project manager might spend a few years working as a software developer. They might also work first as a project assistant or project coordinator. Project managers can go on to be product managers, senior project managers, and directors of project management.

However, keep in mind that these two fields are very flexible and new. There’s no one way to become a project manager or product manager.


For both product managers and project managers, transferable skills, also known as soft skills, are crucially important. You’ll also need some specialized technical knowledge.

Product manager skills:

  • Data analysis

  • Market assessment

  • Price modelling

  • Basic user experience (UX) knowledge

  • Basic business knowledge

Project manager skills:

  • Knowledge of project management approaches like Scrum, Agile, and Waterfall

  • Risk management

  • Project management tools like Asana or Gantt charts

  • Basic budgeting


Certifications aren’t required to become either a project manager or product manager. They may, however, give you an edge in job applications, and sometimes they can be required. Project management certifications are more common than product management certifications. 

Common project manager certifications include:

  • Project Management Professional (PMP)

  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)

  • Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)

  • Professional Scrum Master (PSM)

Product manager courses are available as well, although in the UK, these are not usually asked for and do not always include certification. These include: 

  • Product Management Principles (CIM)

  • AIPMM Certified Product Manager Credential

Getting started

If you're ready to get started, consider the Google Project Management: Professional Certificate. You can learn the basics of project management and gain job-ready skills in six months or less.

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