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Product management vs. product development: who does what?

Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

April 07, 2023

Whether it’s a kitchen gadget you can’t imagine life without or an app that makes a task a hundred times more efficient, good product design is truly magical. But it’s not something that happens by chance.

In fact, there are two essential ingredients to creating a great product: strategy and implementation.

The strategy part involves every step of the development process. It starts with identifying the market need, brainstorming solutions, and designing the product. Then, it includes market research and everything else that goes into product discovery. Once you have a solid strategy in place, it’s time for implementation. This is where you put your plan into action and launch your product into the world.

Both strategy and implementation are crucial parts of the product development process and require careful oversight. That’s where product management comes in. But what exactly is the difference between product development and product management? Let us break it down for you.

Product management vs. product development

Product management and product development are two sides of the same coin; they’re different but closely related functions in the process of creating and launching a product.

First, product development is concerned with the technical aspects of creating a product and refers to the process of building the product itself. This encompasses designing, prototyping, testing, and refining the product until it is ready for launch. Working on this, you’ll typically have a team of engineers, designers, and developers working together to bring the product to life. 

On the other hand, product management focuses on the strategic aspects of bringing a product to market. It encompasses everything from market research and customer needs analysis to pricing, distribution, and ongoing product support. Product managers are responsible for identifying the right product to build based on customer needs and market trends and for ensuring the product meets business goals and objectives

While product development primarily focuses on building the product itself, product management focuses on the entire lifecycle, from initial ideation to eventual retirement.

Ultimately, both are critical to the product’s success — and smooth communication between these functions ensures products are well-built and well-positioned for success in the market.

What does a product manager do?

A product manager oversees all aspects of a product throughout its lifecycle, from ideation and development to launch and ongoing support. Here are some typical tasks: 

  • Conduct market research and gather customer feedback to identify market needs
  • Develop product strategy and roadmaps, taking into account company goals, competition, and customer insights
  • Define product requirements and work with cross-functional teams to ensure product development meets those requirements
  • Prioritize product features and manage the product backlog
  • Collaborate with designers, engineers, and other stakeholders to ensure timely and successful product launches
  • Define and measure key product metrics, and analyze data to optimize product performance and user experience
  • Develop pricing and positioning strategies for the product
  • Communicate product updates, progress, and results to internal and external stakeholders
  • Monitor the market and competition to identify opportunities and potential threats to the product

What does a product developer do?

The product developer is responsible for creating and refining a product, from its initial concept to its final release to the market. Here are their focus areas: 

  • Work with product managers to understand product requirements and define technical specifications for product development
  • Develop and maintain product prototypes, often using software development tools and methodologies
  • Collaborate with designers to ensure the product is visually appealing and user-friendly
  • Write and test code to ensure product functionality and quality
  • Troubleshoot technical issues that arise during product development and deployment
  • Work with cross-functional teams to ensure the product is integrated with other systems and technologies
  • Conduct and oversee product testing, including unit testing, integration testing, and user acceptance testing
  • Ensure product security, scalability, and maintainability
  • Stay up-to-date on emerging technologies and industry trends, and incorporate them into product development as appropriate.

In summary, product managers define and prioritize product features, while product developers focus on building and delivering those features through technical development. There’s an overlap between the two roles, and successful product development often requires close collaboration between product managers and product developers.

Skills of product developers

Product development is a technical and creative role requiring various skills. Here’s what product developers in the making should possess (or work towards): 

  1. Technical skills: A solid technical background and knowledge of software development, coding languages, data analysis, and product design is a must.
  2. Creativity: Developing new products requires creativity and thinking outside the box. Product developers should be able to create clear solutions to complex problems.
  3. Analytical skills: Product developers need to be able to identify opportunities and make data-driven decisions about the product.
  4. Time and workload management: Setting priorities, managing resources, and meeting deadlines is all part of a day’s work for a product developer. 
  5. Collaboration: Product development is a collaborative process that involves working with designers, engineers, and other technical teams. Product developers should work well in a team environment and communicate effectively.
  6. Adaptability: Product development is unpredictable and may require pivoting in a new direction based on feedback or market changes. Product developers should be able to adapt to changing circumstances and adjust their approach as needed.
  7. A keen eye: Development involves a lot of testing and refining, so attention to detail is critical. Product developers should be able to identify and address even minor issues to ensure the final product is of high quality.

Skills of product managers

Product management is a strategic and cross-functional role that requires a broad range of capabilities. Here are some essential skills you’ll need:

  1. Market and customer knowledge: Product managers should deeply understand their target market and customer needs, preferences, and behaviors.
  2. Strategic thinking: They need to think strategically and develop a clear product vision and roadmap that aligns with the company’s overall strategy and goals.
  3. Communication: Communicating effectively with various stakeholders, including executives, developers, designers, and customers, is a big part of the role. 
  4. Project management: Managing complex projects and timelines, setting priorities, and effectively allocating resources are equally important. 
  5. Data analysis: Product managers should be comfortable with data and able to use it to inform decisions, measure performance, and optimize the product.
  6. Creativity: Working with developers, product managers need to come up with savvy ideas to meet customer needs and differentiate the product from competitors.
  7. Leadership: Product managers need to be able to lead cross-functional teams, inspire others, and build consensus around the product vision and roadmap.
  8. Adaptability: Requirements change — product managers need to adapt themselves and lead others through that change. 

Can a product manager do the product development role and vice versa?

In some cases, a product manager may take on some product development responsibilities, such as designing and prototyping new features, or a product developer may take on some product management tasks, such as conducting market research or defining product requirements. 

That said, these two roles require different skill sets and have different priorities. 

Product managers typically have a more strategic focus. They may work closely with product developers but are typically not involved in the technical details of building the product. They are big-picture people. 

Product developers, however, are responsible for designing, building, and testing the product itself. While they may have input into the product roadmap and customer needs, their focus is primarily on building the product according to technical specifications. They are finer-details people. 

To keep your team happy, remember to ensure each person plays to their strengths and that the workload is balanced appropriately. 

How product developers and product managers work together

Now we’ve gone through the differences, let’s look at some of the ways they collaborate:

  1. Product vision: They work together to create a shared vision for the product, which includes defining the product’s purpose, target market, key features, and unique selling proposition.
  2. Roadmap: They collaboratively develop a product roadmap, which outlines the timeline for the development, testing, and launch of the product.
  3. Prioritization: Product managers and product developers both prioritize features and tasks based on customer needs, market trends, and company goals.
  4. Design: They create the product design, including the user interface, user experience, and visual design.
  5. Development: They work together throughout the development process to ensure that the product meets customer needs, stays on track, and delivers on its goals.
  6. Testing: They test the product, identify bugs and issues, and make improvements based on user feedback.
  7. Launch: They both plan and execute the product launch, including creating marketing campaigns, communicating with customers, and monitoring performance.

Which career path earns more?

The earning potential of a product developer versus a product manager can vary depending on the industry, company size, level of experience, and location. In general, product management is a more senior and strategic role that commands higher salaries than product development.

At the time of writing, the average base salary for a product manager in the United States is $128,219 per year, while the average base salary for a product developer is $82,568 per year according to Glassdoor (though remember these are averages, and rates vary by location). 

How do you become a product developer?

Here are some steps to guide you:

  1. Get a degree: Many product developers have a degree in a technical field like engineering, computer science, or industrial design. Some employers may also prefer candidates with a business degree or relevant experience in marketing or sales.
  2. Gain relevant experience: You’ll need relevant experience in product development, which you can gain through internships, co-op programs, or entry-level roles in a related field. You can also gain experience by working on personal projects or contributing to open-source projects.
  3. Learn relevant skills: Product developers need a range of technical and soft skills, including project management, product design, programming, data analysis, and communication. You can learn these skills through formal training programs, online courses, or on-the-job training.
  4. Build a portfolio: As you gain experience and develop your skills, build a portfolio of your work to showcase your abilities to potential employers. Your portfolio can include examples of products you’ve developed, design projects, code samples, and other relevant bits.
  5. Network: Building a professional network is important in any field, and product development is no exception. Attend industry events, join professional organizations, and connect with others to learn about job opportunities and stay current on industry trends.
  6. Apply for jobs: Once you have the necessary education, experience, and skills, apply for product development roles. Browse openings on job boards, company websites, or by networking with industry professionals.

Resources for product developers

Here are some useful resources for people who want to become product developers:

  1. Product School: Product School is a global leader in product management training, with campuses in major cities around the world. They offer in-person and online courses, workshops, and events to help people learn the skills to become successful product managers and developers.
  2. Udemy: Udemy is an online learning platform offering a wide range of courses on product development, design, and management courses. They have classes taught by industry experts. And you can learn at your own pace.
  3. Coursera: Coursera is another online learning platform that offers courses on product development and management and related topics like data analysis and programming. Many of their courses are offered by top universities and are free to take.
  4. Product Development and Management Association (PDMA): The PDMA is a professional association for product development and management professionals. They offer networking opportunities, training, and resources for people who want to advance their careers in product development.
  5. Books: Many product development and management books can be helpful for people looking to enter the field. Some popular titles include Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan; The Lean Product Playbook: How to Innovate with Minimum Viable Products and Rapid Customer Feedback by Dan Olsen; and The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman.
  6. Meetups and events: Attending meetups and events for product development and management professionals can be a great way to network, learn about industry trends, and find job opportunities. Meetup.com and Eventbrite are good places to start looking for events in your area.

How do you become a product manager?

Just follow these steps.

  1. Develop a strong foundation: A bachelor’s degree in business, engineering, computer science, or a related field is usually preferred, but it’s possible to get into product management with experience and skills, even without a degree.
  2. Gain relevant work experience: Having experience in product management, software development, or another relevant field is essential. Gain this through internships, entry-level positions, or work in related marketing, sales, or customer support roles.
  3. Build technical skills: Product managers work closely with developers, so it’s important to have a basic understanding of software development and other technical skills, such as data analysis and project management.
  4. Develop leadership skills: Product managers must be able to lead and motivate teams to meet deadlines and achieve goals. Developing strong leadership and communication skills is essential.
  5. Learn about product management: Attend workshops, courses, and events to learn more about product management (you’ll find some suggestions below).
  6. Network with other professionals: Join product management groups on LinkedIn, attend industry conferences, and attend networking events to meet other professionals in the field.
  7. Look for job opportunities: Look for job openings in product management and related fields. Scan job boards and company websites, or work with a recruiter to find opportunities that match your skills and interests.

Resources for product managers

Here’s your product manager toolkit: 

  1. Product School: Also a one-stop resource for product managers, Product School offers an array of courses, workshops, and online classes. 
  2. Mind the Product: Mind the Product is a community of product managers that provides resources, events, and training. They offer conferences, workshops, and other resources to help product managers develop their skills.
  3. General Assembly: General Assembly is an education company that offers a variety of courses, including product management. Their courses cover topics such as market research, user experience design, and product strategy.
  4. Books: The Product Manager’s Desk Reference by Steven Haines provides a comprehensive guide to product management, covering product development, pricing strategy, and product launch.
  5. LinkedIn Groups: Joining LinkedIn groups allows you to network with other product managers, share experiences, and gain insights from industry trends. 
  6. Product HQ: Product HQ is an online community that provides resources, training, and networking opportunities for product managers. They offer courses, mentorship, and other resources to help product managers succeed in their roles.

Boost collaboration on your product team 

Collaboration is a vital component of any successful product team. Here are some tips:

  1. Hold regular team meetings: Regular team meetings are a great way to ensure everyone is on the same page. These meetings should include updates on progress, any issues or concerns that need to be addressed, and discussions on how to move forward.
  2. Use diagramming software: Use tools like Cacoo to create flowcharts, mind maps, interactive whiteboards, and other visual aids to help the team understand complex ideas and processes.
  3. Encourage open communication: Encourage team members to speak openly and honestly about their work, challenges, and progress. Regular check-ins, one-on-one meetings, or open-door policies are all helpful here. 
  4. Foster a culture of innovation and experimentation: Encourage team members to experiment with new ideas and approaches. From hackathons to innovation days, focus on initiatives encouraging creativity and exploration.
  5. Use retrospectives: Retrospectives, aka project post-mortems, are meetings where the team reflects on what went well, what didn’t, and what can be improved. They are an opportunity to identify issues and develop solutions as a team.
  6. Use project management software: Project management software makes it easy to keep track of tasks, deadlines, and team member responsibilities, helping the entire team — from managers to developers — work more efficiently and collaboratively—essentials when it comes to the fast-paced world of product creation.

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