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Project vs Product: Key Differences for Strategic Business Success

By Drew Moffitt

Projects and products drive businesses, but their management requires distinct approaches. A project is finite, with a focus on delivering specific results within constraints, while a product is a continuous endeavor that evolves with market demand. In this concise guide, you will find precise definitions, direct comparisons, and practical distinctions between project vs product life cycles and objectives, arming you with the knowledge to excel in either domain.

Key takeaways

  • Projects are temporary initiatives with definitive start and end points, designed to achieve specific goals within a set timeframe and budget, while products represent ongoing efforts focused on continually providing value and meeting customer needs.
  • Projects and products differ significantly in team structure, with projects employing dedicated teams that disband after completion and products requiring cross-functional, ongoing teams that focus on long-term value creation and market adaptation.
  • Project managers concentrate on the planning, execution, and delivery of projects within defined constraints, whereas product managers are responsible for the overall strategy, lifecycle, and continuous improvement of products to ensure they fulfill customer requirements and align with market trends.
  • Kumospace, a platform for virtual spaces, can serve as an example to illustrate these differences. A project within Kumospace might involve the development and launch of a new feature, like an improved chat functionality, with a clear timeline and a dedicated team working toward its release. On the other hand, the product aspect of Kumospace involves the ongoing efforts of cross-functional teams to enhance and maintain the platform, ensuring it continues to meet user needs, stay competitive, and evolve with market trends. Product managers at Kumospace would focus on the overall strategy and lifecycle of the platform, continuously seeking opportunities for improvement and innovation.


Project and product: defining the terms

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A project is:

  • a unique, temporary initiative with a defined beginning, middle, and end
  • designed to achieve a specific goal within a set timeframe and budget
  • executed by a dedicated team

Contrarily, a product represents a continual endeavor. It could be a tangible or intangible offering, designed to address customer needs while providing value to both the customers and the company. Unlike a project, a product’s lifecycle is ongoing, with a constant focus on value creation for customers.

The inherent difference between a project and a product is that projects are temporary efforts with specific objectives, whereas products are ongoing endeavors focused on creating value for customers.

Project definition

From the perspective of project management, a project is:

  • a temporary initiative with a clear start and finish
  • propelled by defined goals and objectives
  • with an emphasis on established timelines and budgets to determine the project’s scope and constraints
  • the team is assembled solely for the project’s execution and is disbanded upon completion.

The project’s success is measured by whether it meets its objectives within the agreed-upon constraints of time, budget, and quality.

Product definition

In the context of product management, a product can be a tangible good, service, or abstract idea that is developed to meet a specific need. They are fashioned with the intention of delivering value to customers or users. A distinctive feature of a product is its potential for continuous enhancement.

This continuous improvement is driven by the product manager, who oversees the product’s lifecycle, from development to market introduction, growth, maturity, and eventual decline.

Understanding objectives: project vs product

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Despite both projects and products having the shared aim of creating value, their objectives markedly differ. A project is designed to attain particular goals or objectives, typically involving shorter feedback cycles. Conversely, the success of product objectives is assessed over more extended periods such as quarterly or annually. Projects focus on precise tasks that need to be executed within a certain timeframe with the aim of achieving specific end results.

In contrast, products place a higher emphasis on adaptation to market feedback, leading to continuous improvement and ongoing value creation for customers. A product is not just about delivering a tangible item or service; it’s about creating an experience that provides value to the customer over time.

Project objectives

Project objectives represent short-term, tangible outcomes that feed into the overarching goal. They should adhere to the SMART principle:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

For example, a project’s objectives might encompass reducing operational costs within a particular time frame, such as a 10% reduction over a three-year span.

Project managers focus on these specific goals, such as constructing a building or implementing a new software update, and ensure these projects are completed within a set schedule and budget.

Product objectives

Conversely, product objectives strive to guide user actions that demonstrate the product’s value and contribute to favorable business results. They concentrate on sustained progress and the relentless pursuit of customer satisfaction. Unlike project objectives, product objectives entail a long-term perspective, emphasizing the importance of sustaining the product’s mission over time.

They are crafted to measure and enhance user success, differentiating them from broader company objectives.

Timeframes and life cycles: contrasting projects and products

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A significant difference between projects and products exists in their respective durations and life cycles. While projects are temporary initiatives with a clear start and finish, product life cycles are ongoing. A project concludes when its specific objectives have been achieved.

On the contrary, products have ongoing life cycles that continue through various stages—unlike projects, which terminate upon completion. The stages of a product life cycle include:

  1. Development
  2. Introduction
  3. Growth
  4. Maturity
  5. Decline

This ongoing life cycle allows for continuous improvements and adaptations based on market feedback and changing customer needs.

Project time constraints

In project management, deadlines serve as an organizational tool, helping to:

A project plan, which is a crucial part of project planning, is developed during the planning phase of a project outlining:

  • Scope
  • Objectives
  • Resources
  • Budget
  • Schedule

Tools such as Gantt charts offer a visual overview of the project schedule, indicating dependencies and order of operations, but may not be suitable for Agile environments where requirements frequently change.

Product life cycle

Contrarily, a product’s life cycle is a continuous process that includes stages of:

  • Development
  • Market introduction
  • Growth
  • Maturity
  • Eventual decline

The product life cycle begins with its introduction to the market, proceeds to growth and popularity, reaches maturity with competitive pricing, and eventually enters decline due to changes in consumer demand, leading to its exit from the market.

The life cycle of a product typically consists of four stages:

  1. Growth stage: Sales increase as the product gains popularity and the market expands. Product improvements may be made to compete effectively.
  2. Maturity stage: The market for the product begins to saturate, sales growth slows down, and marketing efforts focus on defending against competition.
  3. Decline stage: Sales drop, market share decreases, and the product eventually phases out of the market. This is influenced by factors such as competition and reduced demand.

Product managers continuously analyze the market and customer feedback to improve the product and ensure it satisfies customer needs throughout the product’s lifecycle.

Team structures: how projects and products differ

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The team structures between project and product management vary significantly. Project teams are assembled for a distinct purpose and are dissolved upon project completion. The project manager holds the highest authority within a project team, taking full ownership of the project’s execution. Project teams can be organized in different ways, including functional, project-based, or a matrix-based structure, offering a flexible chain of command.

On the other hand, product teams are cross-functional and ongoing, encompassing roles from engineering to marketing, to develop and implement product strategies. These teams involve:

This highlights the diverse expertise within product teams, including the development team.

Project teams

Project teams are specifically formed with the intention of achieving set objectives, with a clear understanding that they will be disbanded once the project is successfully completed. Individuals selected for project teams bring a varied range of skills and may work in different capacities, contributing as needed for the project’s success.

For effective management, project teams might be organized into specialized sub-teams, particularly in the case of complex or large-scale projects.

Product teams

Product managers collaborate with cross-functional teams, which include roles from:

  • Engineering
  • Research
  • Design
  • Analytics
  • Marketing
  • Sales

These teams involve professionals with diverse expertise, highlighting the importance of collaboration within product teams.

Product teams can be organized in different ways, such as:

  • Individual product managers overseeing strategic aspects
  • Leveraging a variety of team members’ skills across products
  • Leading autonomous cross-functional squads

Delivering results: comparing project and product deliverables

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Another point of divergence between project and product management lies in deliverables and project resources, which are the tangible outputs of work.

Project-oriented deliverables include:

  • The outputs necessary for the efficient running of the project
  • The final product within the set budget, timeline, and quality specifications
  • Tangible outputs produced throughout the project, in addition to the final product or intangible outcomes.

On the other hand, product-oriented deliverables consist of:

  • features
  • functions
  • components
  • milestones

These are designed for direct customer usage as part of the end product. They can be both tangible items like hardware or software, and intangible results such as those from a service or a training program.

Project deliverables

Project deliverables can include a wide range of outputs, such as:

  • Project plans
  • Reports
  • Documentation produced throughout the project
  • Tangible items such as a final product
  • Intangible outcomes like a report detailing financial expenditures

A project charter and project scope statement are key documents that define the deliverables for a project, serving as references to ensure that what is delivered aligns with what was initially agreed upon.

Milestones in project management assist in monitoring progress and identifying issues early, acting as checkpoints that lead to the final project deliverables. Evaluating the performance of completed projects is crucial to identify areas of improvement and assess whether the project deliverables have met their goals and contributed to success.

Product deliverables

Product objectives, derived from the product’s vision and product strategy, prioritize delivering a product that addresses user challenges and supports user success. Product deliverables are designed to meet the specific needs of customers, enhancing the value and utility of the product.

The life cycle of a product involves continuous improvement based on customer feedback and market developments, ensuring that product deliverables evolve to meet changing user requirements.

Enhancing remote work and virtual offices with Kumospace

To illustrate, consider Kumospace, a platform for virtual spaces that supports remote work and virtual offices. A project deliverable for Kumospace might be the development and launch of a new feature that enhances remote collaboration, such as an advanced virtual whiteboard. This would involve a dedicated team working within a set timeframe and budget to deliver the feature, complete with all necessary documentation and testing. Once the whiteboard feature is launched, the project concludes, and the team disbands. On the other hand, product deliverables for Kumospace include ongoing updates and enhancements to the virtual office environment, such as improving video conferencing capabilities, integrating with other remote work tools, and continuously optimizing the user experience. These product deliverables are managed by cross-functional teams that work together to ensure the platform remains competitive and valuable to users, adapting to the evolving needs of remote work and virtual office setups over time.

Roles and responsibilities: project manager vs product manager

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Although both project managers and product managers hold crucial roles within an organization, their responsibilities vary considerably. Project managers oversee the entire lifecycle of a project from initiation to completion, including its vision and overall goals. On the other hand, product managers spearhead specific projects with a clear start and end. The scope of a product manager typically encompasses the full lifecycle of a product, unlike a project manager who focuses on the particular parameters of a project.

Project managers are primarily tasked with monitoring progress, managing risks, and ensuring projects remain on time and within budget. In contrast, product managers focus on strategic roles like establishing product parameters, aligning products with company vision and goals. The distinction between a product manager vs project manager lies in the fact that while project managers deal with tactical day-to-day activities ensuring project delivery, product managers are responsible for the overall product strategy. A product or project manager, depending on their role, will have different responsibilities and goals to achieve within an organization.

Both project managers and product managers work with teams to complete tasks and reach organizational goals, yet follow different paths with distinct responsibilities.

Project manager role

Project managers are responsible for the holistic planning and execution of projects. Their duties include:

  • Developing initial project ideas
  • Defining concepts
  • Establishing and managing the project team
  • Ensuring team members receive necessary guidance and support to achieve project goals

A project manager oversees the process from beginning to end, often using project management software to help them stay organized and efficient.

One of the fundamental responsibilities of project managers is to manage the project’s budget and ensure cost efficiency throughout the project lifecycle. Effective communication with clients and stakeholders is an integral part of a project manager’s role, establishing clear expectations through deadlines and milestones while maintaining client satisfaction.

Project managers have several key responsibilities, including:

  • Ensuring that tasks are completed within set deadlines
  • Ensuring that the project remains within its defined scope
  • Using risk management techniques to track progress and intervene when necessary.

Product manager role

A product manager oversees the products being developed within an organization, managing every aspect of the product life cycle. Their role focuses on product development and releases, entailing strategic responsibilities like coming up with product ideas, outlining pricing strategies, and defining success metrics. Tasks overseen by a product manager include gathering product and customer satisfaction data, creating a product roadmap, solving product plan roadblocks, prioritizing product launches, and keeping updated with market trends and competitors.

Product managers have the responsibility to:

  • Ensure that product development is aligned with the company’s vision
  • Effectively meet customer needs
  • Conduct continuous market research, which is one of the areas a product manager focuses on
  • Think big-picture to ensure success

The product manager role requires these skills and responsibilities.

Choosing the right path: factors to consider

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The decision to pursue a career in either project management or product management can be guided by various factors such as individual skills, personal interests, and prevalent industry trends. A propensity towards strategic visioning and market analysis is more aligned with a career in product management, whereas a preference for structured processes and execution suggests a better fit for project management. Personality traits such as adaptability and comfort with ambiguity are well-suited to product management, while detail orientation and a process-driven mindset are advantageous for project management.

Skills gained in either project or product management roles are often transferable, offering career flexibility and the ability to switch between the two paths as opportunities arise. Product management professionals have the potential to ascend to executive roles like Chief Product Officer, whereas those in project management may progress towards senior positions such as Director of Project Management. Soliciting feedback and seeking mentorship from veterans in the fields of product or project management can provide invaluable perspectives on the intricacies and benefits of each career path.

Assess your skills and interests

When considering a career path in project or product management, it’s crucial to assess your skills and interests. If you have strong organization, communication, scheduling, negotiation, and cost control skills, you might excel in a project management role. On the other hand, if you have a knack for:

  • strategic product vision
  • customer support
  • the ability to prioritize effectively
  • managing product marketing workflows

You might be better suited for a product management role.

Consider industry trends and opportunities

In addition to assessing your skills and interests, it’s crucial to consider industry trends and opportunities. Experienced product managers with more than 10 years of experience can potentially earn over $134,000. Similarly, PMP-certified project managers can expect a median salary that is 33% higher than non-certified project managers.

The dynamic nature of the business landscape allows for evolving opportunities in both product and project management, with potential for transitions between roles based on individual skills and experiences.

Enhancing your career: certifications and training

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Acquiring certifications and undergoing training can substantially boost your career prospects in both project and product management. In project management, certifications can qualify you for higher-level positions and serve as evidence of your knowledge and skill set.

While a college degree is not strictly required for product managers, bachelor’s or master’s degrees in product management or business administration are common, and various training programs, including boot camps or certifications, are beneficial for career success.

Project management certifications

Project management certifications are a key asset for professionals looking to validate their skills and enhance their career prospects. The PMP (Project Management Professional) and CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management) are both widely recognized certifications in the field of project management. Many professionals pursue these certifications to enhance their career opportunities. The PMP certification, in particular, is globally recognized and demonstrates a project manager’s competence and experience.

Acquiring a project management certification like PMP from the Project Management Institute can provide a significant advantage in job market competitiveness and earning potential.

Product management certifications

In the realm of product management, certifications can enhance employment prospects and industry recognition. AIPMM’s Certified Product Manager Credential by 280 Group requires completion of 18 learning modules and includes a comprehensive practice exam.

There is a high demand for product managers in the job market, implying that certifications such as AIPMM’s can enhance employment prospects.


To summarize, while project and product management share some commonalities, they are distinct fields each with its unique characteristics, objectives, and deliverables. Projects are temporary endeavors with specific goals, while products have ongoing life cycles focused on creating value for customers. Project managers lead specific projects, whereas product managers oversee the entire product lifecycle. Choosing between a career in project or product management depends on individual skills, interests, and industry trends. Certifications and training can significantly enhance your career prospects in both fields. By understanding these distinctions, you can make informed decisions that best align with your career aspirations and personal strengths. For example, Kumospace illustrates how a project might involve developing a new feature for virtual offices, while product management focuses on the continuous improvement and adaptation of the entire platform to meet evolving remote work needs.

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Drew Moffitt

Drew leads marketing at Kumospace. Prior to joining Kumospace, he spent his career founding and operating businesses. His work has been featured in over 50 publications. Outside of work, Drew is an avid skier and sailor. A wholehearted extrovert, he organizes VentureSails, a series of networking events for founders and tech investors.

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