The Art of Project Management: Expert advice from experienced project managers in Silicon Valley, and around the world
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What can Project Management learn from Product Management?

– what happens when a Project Manager and a Product Manager start comparing notes

Preamble – a short while ago I sat down with a friend of mine, Sridhar Karnam, a product manager and talked about how project management and product management have so much to learn from each other. To the general public the two seems oddly indistinct and to the untrained eye you could suppose that by virtue of names the two are very similar. As we all know it turns out that the level of distinction between the two areas depends greatly on the industry and the company.

We decided to post a few blog entries on the area of Project and Product Management. I hope you find them interesting, thought-provoking and helpful.  Feel free to drop us a line in the comment area with your observations and learnings.

Gustav

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What can Project Management learn from Product Management?
– By Sridhar Karnam (www.linkedin.com/in/sridharkarnam)

In the last 5 years or so, we have realized that comparing these two roles is like comparing Apples and Oranges. Not many companies now overlap these roles. These roles over the time have evolved from being janitors of products and projects to management of them. Product management has learned a lot from project management. Let us examine what project management can learn from product management?

(Source: http://www.aipmm.com)

Leading by engagement: product managers are natural leaders. They lead the team by engaging the team with the product vision. Even though none of the cross-functional team members report to Product Managers, there is a mutual respect and trust between, and the team follows the path shown by product managers. Project managers can learn to engage deeper with the project beyond delivery and not just through reporting structure.

Product knowledge: product owners have the complete sense of product through its life cycle, and hence are able to prioritize tasks for the project. Project managers are bound by resource and time constraints, and may not appreciate the big picture. In high-stress environment, project managers tend to razor focus on their project plan, sometimes without the knowledge on product as they could be delivering a small piece of a large product. A quick review of MRD, PRD, specs, and attending a sample sales training of the product could bring in a drastic change in project management approach.

Empowering: Product managers show humility through research, diligence, history of making right choices, and fixing products. Exhibiting power and managing people are not something that product managers crave. Project managers can empower the team with similar knowledge about the coding practices, software methodologies, technology, or platform.

Quick decisions and being prepared: Product managers often make prioritization decisions during meetings, as they well prepared through diligence and customer insights. Similarly project managers can be in sync with their management to be prepared to make quick decisions by running possible scenarios in advance.

Open communication: Product managers communicate their thought process and not decisions. The only way for them to influence the team is to show the logic in their thinking based on the diligence, and data they have collected. This helps the team make the decision that the product manager initiated. Project manager shall communicate on the overall status of project with both the upper management and the project team. Project manager should also use the scrum meetings to communicate on daily status, update from management, and any changes on decision to win the trust of project team.

All-Agile: Product managers keep their plans agile. The product backlog gets updated regularly based on the change of trends, management decisions, strategic partnerships, and competition. Project managers on the other hand are constrained with resources and deadlines with almost no bandwidth for last minute changes. However, project managers could learn from product managers on being agile through the project and being responsive to important and major changes in the project. Half the difficulty in change management is in the mind anyways.

Collaborative: Product managers over a period of time learn to collaborate better. It takes a lot of effort and commitment to get collaborative. The product managers who master collaboration end up creating great products and services generating huge profits for the products. Project managers are so focused in their team and deadlines that they could make effort to collaborate with other project leaders and create ideas and processes for better project management.

Prioritization: Product managers get hundreds of requirements from sales, customers, management, and support. With the help of backlog, they prioritize the product requirements and communicate their roadmap to make sure that the requirement gathering channel is always kept open. Project managers also need to set priorities for the project team. By using some of the new methods such as project back-log to break the tasks into smaller goals and then helping the team to prioritize regularly could help in smooth project management.

About the Author

Gustav Toppenberg is a Sr. PMO Manager in Cisco's Communication & Collaboration IT group. Gustav is currently responsible for leading the PMO and driving project and operational excellence in his team. During his career at Cisco, Gustav has led several projects in change leadership, acquisition integration, and globalization strategy. He is also part of Cisco IT's transition to a services-oriented organization (technology, process, and culture), enabling a client-focused, value-driven, cost-effective alignment between IT and business. Gustav is a native of Denmark and serves on the board of directors at the Danish-American Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco and the NorCal chapter of ASP (Association for Strategic Planning). He has a background in strategy consulting, program/project management, and global change management. Gustav has an interest and passion for the convergence of business and technology; he is a natural change leader and constant disruptor. He continuously seeks to occupy the gap between business and technology, thereby leveraging technology solutions to strengthen competitive advantages in business. Gustav is an MBA graduate of the Thunderbird School of Global Management, ranked the #1 U.S. Business School for International Business by the Wall Street Journal and U.S. News and World Report. You can contact Gustav at gustav.toppenberg@cisco.com "Some of the individuals posting to this site work for Cisco Systems, Inc. Opinions expressed here and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors, not those of Cisco."
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