For those well-versed in the IT world, the distinction between a product manager and a project manager is crystal clear. These two roles, while often conflated, serve vastly different functions within a company. However, newcomers to the field can find themselves bewildered by the similarity in their names, assuming there may be no substantial differences in their roles. But is this assumption accurate? Let’s dive in and unravel the mysteries. Both of these professions offer excellent opportunities for those looking to break into the IT industry, especially if you lack programming skills and have a limited background in technical specialties.
To shed some light on this topic, we turned to Natalia Perkowska, Head of Talent Acquisition at SOFTSWISS, a global leader in iGaming software development. The international IT company has been steadily expanding its development centre in Poznan, primarily staffed with Polish specialists.
Product Manager: Passion for Numbers and Hypothesis Testing
While each company may tailor the responsibilities of a product manager to suit its specific industry and product, there exists a general understanding of the role. A product manager is the specialist who orchestrates all aspects of bringing a new product to market.
Becoming a product manager is akin to nurturing a child, experiencing every stage with purpose: planning, preparation, selecting the right professionals, the anticipation, the crucial moment, sleepless nights, and the first steps. There’s so much to consider! A product manager embarks on the complete journey of a product, from ideation and hypothesis testing to understanding the audience’s needs, market analysis, studying competitors, developing a strategy, presenting, launching, and much more. The product manager sets the course and maintains full control, while a team of developers, designers, marketers, and other specialists follows the carefully chosen strategy.
To qualify for a product manager position, it is imperative to have a genuine passion for working with numbers. This role demands an immersive relationship with data tables and an analytical approach to various research endeavours, all essential for the creation and promotion of a product. This is particularly crucial when addressing the usability aspects of new innovations. Contrary to what one might think, this profession is not about trying things out haphazardly. Instead, it requires a meticulously planned, cost-effective, and well-calculated approach to testing any idea. Consequently, individuals with a strategic mindset, capable of thinking multiple steps ahead and assessing risks, excel in such project roles.
Interestingly, several enlightening studies have been conducted among product managers, one focusing on the American market and the other on the Ukrainian market. Let’s delve into some of their findings. In the United States, for instance, 60% of product managers are men, while 40% are women. Remarkably, 72% of them report being content or very content in their roles. When it comes to the essential soft skills in this profession, experts in the field emphasise qualities such as responsibility, effective communication, adept time management, self-discipline, team motivation, and persuasive abilities. As for hard skills, prioritisation, data-driven decision-making, hypothesis formulation, experimental testing, and thorough market and competitor research are ranked among the top five.
What is more, a whopping 78% of respondents attribute their professional growth to self-education. Engaging in courses, devouring books, attending conferences, and benefiting from the guidance of seasoned colleagues can work wonders for one’s career. This means that aspiring beginners stand an excellent chance of entering the profession, even with minimal prior experience, as long as they are committed to continuous learning and self-improvement.
Product Manager: the Most Sought-After Role
In the dynamic landscape of today’s business world, product managers have emerged as some of the most sought-after professionals. Just to give you a glimpse, more than 2,000 job openings for product managers can be found on LinkedIn alone. The monthly salary for these roles varies depending on factors like location, industry, and company size.
As companies increasingly rely on these experts to drive innovation and achieve success, there is no better time to consider a career in product management. To kickstart your journey in this exciting field, it is essential to build a solid foundation of knowledge. You can begin by exploring blogs, books, and podcasts, which serve as excellent resources for mastering key terms and concepts.
Natalia Perkowska emphasises the critical skills required for aspiring product managers. These include a holistic understanding of the product design and development process, a grasp of business fundamentals, strategic thinking, problem-solving abilities, data analysis proficiency, and effective communication skills.
Starting out, you might consider the role of a deputy product manager, especially in larger companies with extensive product teams. Often, this position is suitable for recent graduates who may also possess experience in programming, engineering, or business analytics.
The next significant milestone is achieving the title of product manager, a position that typically takes anywhere from 1 to 3 years to attain. The time frame depends on both your prior experience and the specific company you join.
With 3-5 years of experience under their belt, a product manager can progress to become a Senior Product Manager, shouldering more substantial responsibilities. This could include team management and influencing product strategy.
Aspiring further, the path leads to becoming a product leader or director of product, roles that demand a deeper focus on strategy, global vision, and adept process management.
It is essential to note that there is no one-size-fits-all journey in product management. Every company, employee, and process is unique. Your progress depends on your skills, work approach, and perhaps a touch of luck.
So, if you have been eyeing a career where innovation meets strategy, product management may just be the right path for you. The opportunities are vast, and the demand is high, making it a thrilling and rewarding field to explore.
Project Manager: Control at Every Stage and Inner Zen
The role of a project manager is pivotal, serving as the linchpin between the customer and the IT product development team. Essentially, a project manager must craft a comprehensive action plan, orchestrate and oversee team efforts, proficiently delegate tasks as per the schedule, ensure deadlines are met, mitigate risks, manage budgets, promptly troubleshoot emerging issues, and keep the client informed.
The project manager harnesses the company’s resources, orchestrating specialists to bring the client’s vision to life within a well-defined timeframe. Consequently, when deadlines loom or outcomes veer from the original concept, it is the project manager who must answer questions and address concerns. They are accountable for both triumphs and setbacks, keeping the client in the loop throughout the journey. In the dynamic world of IT project management, challenges often arise, such as the urgent need to replace a key designer due to illness or motivating a team that occasionally falls short of deadlines.
Therefore, a critical attribute for anyone aspiring to be a project manager is the ability to perceive problems not as insurmountable crises, but as tasks with attainable solutions. It is imperative to approach these challenges not with stress and panic, but with composure and careful consideration. This underscores another vital soft skill for successful project management: resilience in the face of stress. As one can imagine, not everything runs smoothly, not only during the project’s execution but also due to alterations requested by the client. Maintaining one’s inner calm while navigating these complexities is indeed a test of mettle.
Effective communication skills and the knack for fostering constructive interactions with both the team and the client are equally indispensable. Additionally, recognising the weight of the responsibility for project execution and meeting client commitments is crucial. It should not be seen as a burdensome task but rather as an opportunity to contribute to the creation of valuable IT innovations. In essence, love for the profession is paramount.
When it comes to important hard skills for a project manager, the top three include proficiency in managing processes, teams, and tasks (which includes familiarity with various management methodologies), technical acumen (not necessarily coding but a general understanding of product development stages), and adeptness in financial management and document handling (such as recording agreements and expenditures, generating reports, and other essential but less glamorous aspects of managerial work).
The profession of a project manager is in high demand, with over 4,000 positions available across different levels. It serves as an excellent entry point for those embarking on a career in the IT industry. It’s worth noting that competition for junior project manager roles is fierce. Nevertheless, working in such a capacity offers the opportunity to traverse all phases of the software development cycle within a company.
Before embarking on your project management journey, it is essential to ascertain whether this role aligns with your aspirations. Exploring the experiences of seasoned Project Managers, engaging in conversations with them, or pursuing a project management internship can provide valuable insights. Alternatively, you can enrol in introductory online courses to get a taste of the profession, often accompanied by assignments that illuminate your aptitude for handling the responsibilities.
Natalia Perkowska highlights the key skills required for this role, emphasising the importance of collaboration, teamwork, effective communication, time management, organisational abilities, problem-solving, and critical thinking.
As you embark on your career path, consider spending some time in an entry-level project manager position, such as a project coordinator, assistant, or junior project manager. These roles are pivotal within a company, aiding project managers in planning and monitoring project success, while simultaneously providing you with invaluable experience. This experience can serve as a stepping stone towards advancing into roles like project manager, director, or other higher positions within the field.
Product Manager and Project Manager: Your Opportunity to Shine in the IT Industry
Now that you have grasped the distinctions between two non-programming IT specialties, product manager and project manager, you might have found a calling that truly excites you. Perhaps one resonated with you so much that you are eager to dive into job openings and test your mettle. It is often thought that these roles are tailor-made for former developers who possess a deep understanding of every facet of product creation. However, there is a significant caveat: tech professionals tend to be more reserved and introverted. Meanwhile, effective communication skills, the ability to negotiate, persuade, motivate, and smooth out rough edges are paramount for both product and project managers. This is your golden opportunity to shine in the IT realm, even outshining the programming experts.
Product managers chart the course, define the goals, and steer the business direction of a product, while project managers kickstart the processes to translate those goals into reality. This entails immersing yourself in market research by devouring articles, tuning into podcasts, engaging with experts, and participating in conferences. The pivotal step is to ascertain whether this direction aligns with your passion and whether you are primed for the demanding journey ahead. Both positions are in high demand, and the job market is fiercely competitive. I also recommend collaborating with recruitment agencies boasting a vast client network and substantial expertise. It is a cost-free strategy that could set your career on the right path!” Natalia Perkowska offers this sage advice.
When collaborating with agencies, remember to maintain a professional tone and omit pronouns from your communication. It is also advisable to incorporate keywords linked to project management or the most crucial skills sought for the position. Do not forget to underscore your notable achievements in project management and employ a clear and logical sentence structure. Besides comprehensive preparation and mastering your resume, it is imperative to acquaint yourself with the company you are applying to. The larger, the better.
You might find it advantageous to peruse the profiles of the individuals you will be interacting with on LinkedIn. Who knows, you might share common experiences with the interviewer or have insights about their previous employers that could enrich your conversation. The benefits of this DIY ‘research’ are indeed manifold.
To stay composed during the interview, it is wise to prepare answers to several standard questions in advance. This approach will prevent anxiety-induced improvisation.
Remember, the interview constitutes a pivotal phase in the recruitment process. However, it is essential to bear in mind that the worst-case scenario is receiving a ‘no thanks’ or ‘maybe next time’ response. Every conversation should be viewed as a learning opportunity, even if things do not go as planned.
In conclusion, we encourage you to explore the current vacancies at SOFTSWISS. Perhaps what they are seeking is a product manager or project manager like you!