Product Manager vs Program Manager: What's the Difference? 

Updated on May 25th, 2021
Product Manager vs Program Manager: What's the Difference? 

Do you want to know the difference between a product manager and a program manager?

We can all agree that product management is a difficult job. It requires balancing the needs of many different stakeholders, often with competing interests and priorities. 

On the other hand, program management is a little more straightforward. Generally speaking, the program manager has one major stakeholder to balance with: their senior team.

In this post, we'll see some insights on this topic as well as some common roles and responsibilities of these two positions. as well as how to become a great product manager

Let's dive in.

What is a Product Manager?

A product manager is a person who oversees the development and release of new products. They are in charge of coordinating project teams, defining features for those projects, providing input on design decisions, etc. 

What is a Program Manager?

Program managers often work as part of an organization's senior leadership team to plan and execute strategic initiatives. While they may be responsible for managing multiple programs simultaneously at times, their main focus is usually one big initiative or project - something that will have implications across the entire company. 

Also, program managers will sometimes work with many different departments within the organization to ensure successful implementation, while product managers often have fewer stakeholders.

Product Manager Vs. Program Manager: Key differences

Let's take a look at some of the key differences and similarities between product managers and program managers:

- Product managers are responsible for managing a specific product, whereas program managers manage multiple projects or programs.

- Program managers often work as part of an organization's senior leadership team to plan and execute strategic initiatives, while this doesn't happen with product management. 

- Many different departments within the company may be involved in the successful implementation of a project or program managed by a PM, but not necessarily so with products.

Product Manager Vs Program Manager: Key similarities

- Both roles need strong customer orientation skills (due to understanding the competitive landscape) and analytical abilities (to measure business performance). 

- Product Managers are responsible for developing products, and they can be found at companies of different sizes across a variety of industries. 

- Program Managers may also oversee product development from time to time, but their day-to-day focus is on managing multiple projects that have been initiated by senior leadership team members within an organization's strategic initiatives plan. 

Product Manager Roles and Responsibilities

Now let's take a look at some of the everyday tasks of a product manager:

1. Determining the needs of customers in the market 

Product managers are responsible for figuring out what people want and need, which helps them to develop new products or improve existing ones.

They research the current market landscape by analyzing sales data, conducting surveys of users, talking with industry insiders and competitors to see what's working well and where there may be a gap in the market.

2. Coming up with new product ideas

Product Managers are responsible for generating new ideas and brainstorming with various stakeholders to come up with innovative products and product roadmaps.

They also have the responsibility of making sure that there are clear, defined product lifecycle and product vision specifications before their team goes into the design phase.

3. Evaluating market competition

Product Managers are constantly monitoring the competition to see what their strengths and weaknesses are. This helps product managers, as well as product marketing managers, identify where they can use a competitive advantage or new product features that will give them an edge over their competitors.

4. Working with the sales team

Product managers collaborate with the sales team to help them out by providing valuable insights into their customer base. This includes information about what pricing is a good fit and how they can be marketed in order to have an effective outreach strategy.

5. Creating goals and forecasting sales

Product managers are in charge of creating goals and forecasting sales. They do this by figuring out what the demand from their target market is for a product or service, then they work with other departments to make sure that there is enough supply to meet these demands.

6. Working on product pricing

Product managers are responsible for working on product pricing. They do this by looking at the costs to produce a certain service or good, then they work with other departments to figure out how much the item should cost in order to make sure that there is profit and that they're competitively priced among their target market.

7. Assessing sales and production costs

Product managers assess sales and production costs. They do this by figuring out the total cost of producing a certain product or service, then they work with the project management department to make sure that their prices are competitively priced for their target market so that there's profit in every sale.

8. Communicating with stakeholders

Product managers communicate with stakeholders, whether it's customers, project managers, investors, or the board of directors. Communication is an important part of product management because they're in charge of developing a product that meets certain needs and expectations.

9. Measuring product profitability 

Product Managers work with other departments to measure the profitability of a product. Productivity is measured through cost per unit, profit margin, and total sales volume.

10. Creating product strategies

Product managers are involved in the conception, development, and marketing of their products to consumers. This usually involves creating a product strategy.

11. Recruiting and training product employees

Recruiting and training product employees is crucial for the success of a company. Product managers will work with human resources to find qualified candidates.

12. Monitoring the performance of the product team 

Product managers are responsible for monitoring the performance of their product teams. Productivity is measured by analyzing milestones, deadlines, and budgets with other departments such as marketing or development to ensure targets are met.

13. Completing operational requirements

Product managers may also be responsible for completing operational requirements to maintain a product. For instance, they might work with IT teams or vendors to ensure that systems are in place and data is up-to-date.

In summary, a product manager is responsible for all stages of the development process including strategy, marketing, design, and implementation. They manage their products from conception until it reaches consumers’ hands under optimal conditions. 

A Product manager can oversee one product line or many lines within an organization depending on the size of the company and the complexity of its operations. The role varies widely depending on whether you're working at a startup or established enterprise; however, some duties remain consistent across industries.

Product Manager Skills

In order to be successful in the role, Product Managers need to have a number of different skills including:

  • Strong analytical and problem-solving abilities 
  • Ability to work with teams from various fields and disciplines such as engineering, marketing, product design etc. 
  • Ability to find creative solutions for problems through synthesis and collaboration 
  • Experience managing projects
  • Ability to understand the development process
  • Management of Agile methodology
  • Excellent communication skills

Program Manager: Job Description

A program manager manages a program from inception to completion. This person is responsible for ensuring that the project meets its objectives on time and within budget constraints.

Some of the specific deliverables of this job title are:

1. Enhancing the quality of existing programs

They are responsible for analyzing the current state of a program and then proposing solutions to improve its performance through better management, more resources, or any other means appropriate.

2. Developing and implementing strategies for the program team

The Program Manager is responsible for developing and implementing strategies that will produce the desired performance of their team, as well as working with them to assess progress. They also develop timelines or schedules around what needs to happen when in order to reach program objectives.

3. Assessing all possible risks associated with programs

The Program Manager is responsible for assessing all possible risks associated with the program and then taking action in order to mitigate them.

4. Working with the HR team to manage resources for programs

The Program Manager is responsible for working with the HR team to make sure that they have enough resources available. This includes budgeting and making sure there are enough people in place, and also determining which roles should be combined or eliminated.

5. Reporting on program performance to stakeholders

The program manager is responsible for reporting on the performance of their program. This includes providing updates to stakeholders, as well as compiling data and product management metrics to show progress in a way it aligns with business goals.

6. Working with the marketing team for promoting programs

The Program Manager ensures that their program is promoted to the right audience. This includes developing a thoughtful marketing plan, as well as collaborating with the Marketing team on content and promotions.

7. Developing new programs 

The Product Manager is responsible for analyzing the market and developing new programs that align with customer needs. This may include partnering with other areas of the company to make it a reality, as well as creating cost projections or ROI models.

8. Identifying PM goals for the organization

The product manager will work with the client to set goals for each project. They will then monitor progress and make adjustments accordingly so that these goals are met.

Program Manager Skills

In order to be a successful Program Manager, it is necessary to have great organizational and people skills as well as adopting a product strategist mindset. A Product Manager also needs strong analytical capabilities as well as excellent communication skills with clients and stakeholders.

It's important that they meet some product management education requirements in order to acquire the necessary skills for the job. They usually do this by majoring in a related field or by enrolling in a product management certification program or even a PM bootcamp.

Some of the most important skills for a program manager are:

  • Conflict Resolution skills
  • Experience in program management and team management.
  • Risk Management skills
  • Proficient in Microsoft applications 
  • Leadership skills

Product Manager Vs. Program Manager: What is the Right Option for You?

A product manager is responsible for managing the product as a whole, while also implementing ideas and plans to ensure that it meets its goals. They need excellent communication skills with clients in order to manage feedback from customers. Product Managers are typically not involved in any development or implementation of features because they will rely on other team members who specialize in those areas.

Program managers oversee programs such as projects, events, or initiatives, which can be long-term or short-term depending on what their job scope entails. Program managers usually have leadership qualities but don't take part in actual execution either; instead, they delegate tasks to teams under them that have the expertise and knowledge required for specific parts of the project (such as design).

It takes many years of experience in order to become both a product and a program manager. That said, working in these positions can be much more lucrative and rewarding than other related positions.