Often have I carried the ‘product management hat’ and at the same time the ‘project management hat’ during a new product development project. Was this difficult to do? No, not really, as the responsibility of both roles was very clear and I had a lot of experience in both roles. Was there ever a friction in time management between both roles? Did one role sometimes get priority over the other? Yes, definitely.
I wrote this post for those who are combining the product & project management role during new product development. So I am sharing some personal experience how its works for me.
Long term goals might suffer from the short term crisises that need to be tackled. In your product management role, working on product strategy and road mapping is very important to guarantee successful product development on the long term.
While in your project management role, managing the daily challenges of new product development needs your focus.
Your strategic product management activities sometimes suffer because of urgent daily project issues that need to be picked up right away. When you carry both hats during the same project, you need to divide your time. As both these roles require focus, hard work, motivation and dedication, it is obvious that this can create a time fringe somewhere down the road.
But not only time management between these roles is challenging. What about the different skills, background, education and knowledge that are needed for both roles? Are these identical for both product management and project management? Or is there a big difference? Not every product manager is fit for the role as project manager and visa versa. Can you excel in both roles?
The life of a product manager
When you look a the role of product manager, you see that it requires other skills than the role of project manager. The product management role is more focussed on defining the customer requirements, having thorough market knowledge and technical product knowledge. Next to operational activities like benchmarking, price setting and user experience analysis, defining the product strategy and long term road mapping are the strategic responsibilities of product managers.
To be successful as product manager, you need skills like ability to translate customer requirements into successful product propositions, ability to define the long term product strategy, be able to assure the right product design and aesthetics, creativity in discussions with development on technical issues and how that impacts the final product, be able to create the financial, technical and commercial feasibility, deciding with the logistic responsible on the ramp-up quantities. And so on….
Product managers need to deal with the input of many different disciplines in the organisation, including third party suppliers and other external organisations. One of their main responsibilities is to ensure that during product development, the product requirements are embedded in the right way, so the end product will be delighting their customers.
The life of a project manager
While the product manager is more ‘product focussed’, the project manager focusses on the complete project.
This entails people management, financial project responsibility, project planning, managing manufacturing, assembly and logistics. Daily managing expectations on different levels in the organisation.
All these activities, require skills like having a helicopter view, having good planning capabilities, using a structured way of working, ability to convince and create leverage with stakeholders in different functions and departments, motivate project team members to give their utmost to the project. The main responsibility of the project manager is to ensure in time delivery of the project, right product, right place, right price and within budget.
The main common skills that are required in both roles are having a helicopter view and good communication skills, to level with different people on different levels within and outside the organisation.
Can you excel in both roles?
This week I came across an interesting blog article on this subject, written by Treemis Skeete from Mind the Product on Bloglovin. It is an interesting article about ‘ Why Product Management should not be responsible for Project Management’. His conclusion is that you can never excel in both roles. Next to that, he says “urgent matters like on time delivery of the new product often gets priority over product strategy”. Therefore it is better to focus on one role and not to carry these two different hats during a new product development.
I do share his opinion when it comes to complex products or projects. For sure these roles should be fulfilled by two different project team members.
My personal experience with carrying both hats during less complex projects is that this can be done very successfully. There is an overlap in skills that are needed in both roles. If you are a successful product manager and you have a natural talent for project management, just go ahead!
5 Tips to successfully combine the product management and project management role in new product development.
Tip 1: Create an overview of main deliverables per phase and per discipline in the new product development process.
The new product development process is divided in 6 phases:
- Fuzzy Idea phase: brainstorm phase, input from market research to come to new ideas.
- Concept phase: determine your new product concept.
- Feasibility phase: verify the technical, commercial and financial feasibility of your new product idea.
- Realisation phase: develop the new product.
- Introduction phase: start mass production and bring the new product on stock in the warehouse. The new product is now available for sales.
- Evaluation phase: some months after the introduction the project team and management will evaluate what went right and what went wrong during the new product development. In the next project, these learnings will be taken into account.
Tip 2: Define clear deliverables for both roles.
By using the above input-output overview, you are able to define deliverables of different disciplines in your team on a higher level. When you and your team have done this, you can go to the next step and start defining deliverables in more detail per discipline. It needs to be so detailed that you can indicate in your project planning how many days you need to finish this deliverable. Obviously for high level deliverables this is not so easy to do, but for more detailed, concrete ones, this can be done and the advantage is, that they can be better managed.
Tip 3: Create a very detailed project planning including all the deliverables of all project team members using the 6 phases in new product development.
Do not forget the include the milestones as well. The milestones are linked to investment decisions, for example tooling, demo samples, external development costs. A good project planning needs to have these investment decisions at the same date as the milestones. This prevents a non-profitable project to be continued.
The above 3 tips are meant to built a new product development process in your organisation. With such a process in place you are better able to define, develop and introduce products that delight your customers, right product, right price, right place and within budget. Tip 4 and 5 are geared towards your daily challenges in combining the product & project management job :-).
Tip 4: Create a daily priority list for both functions.
At the end of your working day create a priority list for the next day. Start with the most important tasks and go down the list by finishing the less important ones towards the end of the day. Do not let you get distracted by other issues that are not on your list. Add them on the list of tomorrow if they are really urgent. Do you like ticking of tasks very quickly? This gives a good feeling right :-), but at the end of the day, it leaves you with the most critical tasks, which you might not be able to finish in time. So do not start with the quick and easy tasks first if they are not indicated as priority tasks.
What also helps is not to start your working day wrestling through your inbox. First start with your priority list and get the most important ones done first thing in the morning, then take a look at your inbox to determine what needs your attention and what can be answered at a later moment.
Evaluate at the end of your working week how it went and define your strategy for the next week. Make sure you have a new daily priority list ready for the first day of a new working week, so you can be effective from the first minute.
Tip 5: Structure – plan – check – follow up.
By working in a very structured way, you will keep a clear overview of your project and the activities that need to be carried out in order to successfully development new products.
By using a new product development process in your organisation, you will realise structure from day one. By using this backbone to further detail the activities in your product & project management role, you are able to work on these at the right time during the process. It will not only help you pick the right priorities, but also support you in delivering in time.
If you include these detailed deliverables in your project planning, you can define and manage your daily priorities. These help you focus on busy days when there is a crisis that need to be solved and your time management skills are challenged.
By checking weekly whether you are still on target, whether you have worked on the right priorities and have focussed on the right issues, you are able to adjust your project in time, instead of it popping-up as a surprise at the end….
If you need to adjust your product management or project management activities, make sure you give a good follow-up on this. Plan the changes you need to make through the whole project. So not only planning wise, but also in the financial overviews, what impact is has on the technical and commercial side of the project. Meet with the project team and make sure everyone is involved and supports this adjustment.
These 5 tips are useful when you wear both the product management hat and the project management hat during new product development.
What are your tips to make this work? Do you also use a process or structure to help you realising new products?
Leave your tips in the comments!