What’s your definition of each? Based on a scientific definition or experience? Do the both overlay or contradict each other?
For years, especially early on in my career, I went by the (text) book definition of each; granted, at the time, those were two distinctly different definitions that did not touch each other in the least.
Over time, as my experience in the big brave world grew, my understanding of the two terms began to change. In hindsight, I am almost tempted to say that exactly the “amount” of experience has driven that change.
Starting out, one is being told what to do when and how; after all, that is the strength of the entry level hire, for the most part. Without any ill-will toward that career level, the context, the environment, the operational consequences and big picture implications are simply not realized or recognized yet.
Doing this in a predictable pattern, one step at a time, driven by where in the process something currently is, following a previously established approach, that is classic text book definition of project management: The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements. In other words, a process based methodology.
In reality, this does not do the project manager, nor the process, least of all the intended outcome any justice! Yet, in all honesty, one crucial aspect is amiss in this definition! An aspect that can only come with experience, walking a mile in those shoes, having done something a few times, owning the T-shirt. You get the point. That one thing is CONTEXT.
A project manager relies on Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), field experts, process and business owners, etc. for just that context. However, again, without experience, the project manager won’t get that needed, essential and vital context as he won’t know how to ask, how to question, how to dig deeper. Or even recognizing the need to dig deeper in the first place.
Over time, as the experience level grows, so does the project manager grow and evolve, ideally.
As the project manager begins to ask, probe and elicit himself such pertinent information, just the right amount of such, does he begin to add more value to the role; functioning as someone more than a mere “gate keeper” and documentation jokey. No longer is he just the middle man who does as he’s told when he is told.
As context begins to grow, consequences are being understood, implications realized, a true contextual, relevant and vital evaluation of information takes place. No longer contained within the silos that are the pieces of the puzzle, which cannot be cognizant of the ripple effects downstream, yet, at the higher, comprehensive view of the big picture.
Ever heard of the saying “cannot see the forest for the trees”?
The project manager with experience being the eyes and contributing the intelligence to view and evaluate the dynamic big picture as it changes – real time.
This is not to diminish the contributions and continued absolute essential need of SMEs and operational managers by any means! Yet, the focus of these vital roles in any organization is a different one – when it comes to projects. It is not to keep an eye on the forest management; it is to ensure the trees in the forest are healthy, have room and soil to grow.
The such experienced and engaged project manager has begun to blur the line of differences between project and product management. Not intentionally, however, as a natural progression and logical conclusion.
Questions asked, actions taken, evaluations performed, decisions made and paths embarked on no longer are just a measure of success or failure of a “temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result”; the output of these activities, assessments, scope and phase definitions and finally availability of the service or product to the end user has transformed into text book definition of product management: an organizational function dealing with the planning, forecasting, and production, or marketing of a product or service. It integrates people, data, processes and systems.
In other words, the “product” manager now defines the what, provides the direction (the how) and drives the product or service coming to life (the when).
Would love to hear your comments and thoughts on this thesis!