Do You Need a Project Manager, Product Manager, Scrum Master, or Something Else?

Product project Manager

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To meet your business objectives, you could benefit from a project manager. However, a better choice may be a product manager, a program manager, a scrum master, or even a project coordinator.

Business owners often use the above terms interchangeably, but they are actually all quite different roles. It’s confusing because their responsibilities do overlap and they often work together on the same endeavors. However, it’s important to understand both the similarities and differences between the various roles — otherwise, you may end up hiring the wrong kind of support.

Project Manager vs Product Manager

Let’s start by comparing the two roles business owners are usually most interested in: project manager vs product manager. The difference between these roles is only two letters — which may be why people confuse them so often. However, it’s easy to remember what they each do by thinking about products vs projects.

Product vs Project

By product, we mean anything a business offers its customers or clients. As well as physical products, this can be software or services. In many situations, we think of physical products as being quite different to services, but they are the same for this purpose. In both cases, they have a life cycle of development, release to market, maturity, and finally retirement.

A project is what leads to the creation of a product. It typically has a set beginning and end, in which time the team needs to meet certain milestones. It has a temporary nature — once you’ve arrived at the final result, there’s no returning to the project to make changes. Later, you may decide to improve a product or create an updated version, but this would involve starting a brand new project.

Now you are clear about what we mean by product and project, it will be easier to understand the similarities and differences of a project manager vs a product manager.

What Is a Product Manager?

A product manager is the most important person during the development stage of a product. Product managers work using a prioritization framework, coming up with a strategy, defining requirements, and ultimately determining which product ideas become a reality.

At the start of development, product managers spend time talking with the target audience of the product. They find out what consumers need and what problems they face. They also assess what the market currently looks like. Product managers consider potential opportunities and then decide which to pursue.

After this, product managers create a strategy to build the product — in the early stages, it consists of just the main features. This, in turn, leads to the development of a minimum viable product.

The product development process involves collaboration with many other departments at the company. Marketing, sales, and customer support all have important insights that can ensure the final product is profitable and aligns with business goals.

Lastly, product managers are accountable for leading the development team that builds the product.

What Is a Project Manager?

A project manager becomes necessary when you’ve developed a plan, the highest level at the company has approved the plan, and it’s now time to execute the plan. The project manager will make sure everything rolls out smoothly, that you stay within your budget, and that you are able to bring the product to market by your deadline. The main responsibility of a project manager is to oversee strategy. This involves organizing the entire team and making sure everyone is aware of what they need to be doing.

The project manager looks at the big picture, focusing on the entire project rather than any smaller, individual goals. It’s up to the project manager to determine what skills and resources are necessary for a successful outcome. Finally, the project manager assesses and controls for risks and solves any problems that crop up.

Project Manager vs Program Manager

Another option is a program manager — another PM role, which only adds to the confusion.

Project vs Program

Before we consider the difference between project manager vs program manager, it’s necessary to be clear how a program differs from a project.

We’ve already seen that a project is temporary — with a set start and end date, budget, and goals. A program, in contrast, is a permanent endeavor. It usually consists of a number of related projects. Early projects set the foundation for later ones, although some projects also run concurrently. In any case, they all lead the business closer to meeting its main objectives. The program contributes to overall business growth, rather than one defined deliverable.

What Is a Program Manager?

A program manager is the person who manages the strategy across the entire program. He or she takes your main business objectives into account and considers how the program can help your company reach these objectives.

If you are running several projects at the same time, your program manager will coordinate these efforts. This involves making sure that all the separate pieces fit together and complement (rather than compete with) each other. The program manager works with all the team members across the various projects and adapts strategies in a way that makes sense in the grand scheme of things.

Project Manager vs Scrum Master

Another role to consider is scrum master. Never regard a scrum master as a substitute for a project manager — the skills and areas of expertise vary widely between the two roles. In fact, it may make sense to have both a scrum master and a project manager working on some projects, particularly larger undertakings.

What Is a Scrum Master?

You can think of a scrum master as being the coach for a team working together on the same project. Whereas the focus of the project manager is sticking to a timeline, acquiring resources, and making sure the project meets its targets, it’s the responsibility of the scrum master to ensure the project is an overall success.

Scrum master is a flexible role. It involves providing support whenever and wherever support is needed. A particularly important task is planning and monitoring Scrum Sprints and other types of meetings. Observations about these meetings ensure that future ones are successful. The scrum master is also a key asset for keeping your team on track and motivated. He or she works to eliminate obstacles and resolve any disputes.

It’s important to note that a scrum master is not the same as an agile coach. The main difference is that a scrum master tends to focus on a single team, whereas an agile coach supports the entire organization by working on multiple projects. The difference is comparable to project manager vs program manager.

Project Manager vs Project Coordinator

Finally, we come to two roles that both have “project” in their title: project manager vs project coordinator. Again, there are some key differences between the two.

Management vs Coordination

To understand why a project coordinator has a distinct function from a project manager, let’s consider what we mean by management vs coordination.

Management is about being in charge. In terms of a project, it means leading a team and defining the direction the project will take. Coordination, on the other hand, refers to the synchronization of activities. Coordination of a project involves working at the same level as the other team members. In fact, coordinate as an adjective means “of the same rank.” Therefore, coordinating means providing advice and support without controlling the project.

What Is a Project Coordinator?

Since the project coordinator reports to the project manager, you will only need a coordinator if you also have a manager. A project coordinator provides support with any tasks that are necessary for the project’s success, particularly administrative work. This may involve assisting team members with the aim of ensuring they are able to meet deadlines.

A project coordinator needs to understand the project better than almost anyone. He or she is familiar with short-term targets, how the budget is allocated, and the smallest elements of the project along with major milestones, long-term goals, and how the project is relevant to your business as a whole. The role is very much focused on the details and on executing each stage of the project with precision.

Choosing the Right Role for Your Needs

To determine which role would most benefit your company, you need to consider factors like what stage of development you are at, the size of the undertaking, where your challenges lie, and where you’ve struggled in the past. You should also consider if you’d prefer to receive support for a new project, for an ongoing program, or in developing your latest product. Bear in mind that some roles are more suited to temporary contracts, whereas others lend themselves to a more permanent position.

Finally, think about how you could best utilize your budget now, but keep in mind that your needs may change in the future. That could mean that it makes sense to contract someone to take on a particular role now, but you may need to hire for a different position in the future. If your business continues growing, there may be times when you want several (if not all) of the above working for you.

If you decide to handle project management yourself (at least for now), you’ll find it useful to learn some project management skills. Learn about the things successful project managers do to lead their teams and how to create the perfect project management plan by reading our blog posts.

Laura Holton

Laura is a professional writer specializing in content aimed at small businesses and entrepreneurs. She has helped countless startups find the information they needed to take their ventures to the next level.

Laura Holton

Laura is a professional writer specializing in content aimed at small businesses and entrepreneurs. She has helped countless startups find the information they needed to take their ventures to the next level.


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