Product Management vs. Project Management: The Perils of Dual Roles

  • 28 May, 2023

Product managers, how many times have you seen this in a product manager job description?

Must be proficient in project management

Lately, I’ve been spending my time reading product manager job descriptions and come across this way more than expected. You know what I do?

Swipe left and move on.


Because this juggling act can lead to frustration and a perpetual battle between competing needs.

Let’s dig in and explore why product managers tasked with project management responsibilities often find themselves in a state of misery.

Product management and project management priorities are different

Product managers and project managers have distinct objectives that can sometimes be at odds with each other. Product managers are primarily focused on external factors, such as understanding the market and customers' needs, in order to develop successful products. We thrive on gaining insights from the market, conducting customer research, and adapting our product strategy accordingly. Our decisions are driven by external factors, allowing us to pivot and respond to evolving customer needs.

On the other hand, project managers are internally focused, concentrating on operational requirements like ensuring the project is executed within the constraints of time, resources, and budgets. These competing needs create inherent tension, making it challenging for one person to effectively wear both hats and make decisions that satisfy both aspects.

Dual roles will keep you up at night

If you are a product manager wearing both product and project management hats you wake up every morning with an existential crisis. Should you prioritize a customer request for a new feature, even if it threatens the project timeline? Or should you compromise on customer demands to ensure project milestones are met?

These dilemmas can lead to decision paralysis, frustration, and a constant battle over which “hat” should prevail. Struggling to strike the right balance, product managers may find themselves stretched thin and unable to deliver optimal results in either role.

How do you ever get any sleep?

Can a product manager be a project manager?

As we pointed out above, these are two distinct roles within an organization. They are distinct for a reason.

Each role has its own focus and responsibilities.

While it’s possible for an individual to transition from being a product manager to a project manager, it usually involves a shift in focus and skill set (see above.) If a product manager finds that they are more interested in the operational aspects of managing projects and enjoys the hands-on coordination and execution, they may decide to pursue a career as a project manager.

However, it’s important to note that if a product manager decides to become a project manager, they will need to let go of their current product management responsibilities. Project management requires full dedication to the specific project at hand, and trying to juggle both roles simultaneously could lead to conflicts of interest, divided attention, and potential difficulties in effectively managing both the product and the project.


Product managers who are tasked with project management responsibilities often find themselves in a challenging predicament. The clash between external and internal focus, along with the competing needs of product and project management, can result in a perpetual state of misery. Recognizing the inherent conflicts and understanding the limitations of wearing both hats simultaneously is crucial for maintaining sanity and achieving success. By acknowledging these challenges, organizations can provide the necessary support and structure to enable product managers to focus on their core responsibilities while ensuring effective project management through dedicated project managers.

Does your organization expect product managers and project managers to be the same person, let me help you untangle that..

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