TL:DR - Product Management and Project Management are not interchangeable, and the Product Manager or Project Manager responsible need software that is fit for purpose.
For years, companies and executives have succumbed to the misconception that product and project management and the tools responsible for those functions are interchangeable.
If you peek inside any Enterprise environment or even startup at the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find product managers hacking together Trello or Asana boards with their team and pushing the round peg of project management tools into the square peg of their product development needs.
It needs to change.
It was forgivable ten years ago when software-as-a-service tools where in their infancy and limited accessible solutions were available to meet the needs of product managers and product development teams.
But, in 2020 when there are roughly 15,000+ SaaS companies operating in every B2B market you can think of, forcing the wrong tool to the wrong people isn’t going to cut it.
Unless you literally want your product team to pull their hair out.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the major differences between product development and project management as a business function, and what you can do as a decision-maker to help your team in their day-to-day responsibilities within these functions.
What Is Project Management
Put simply, project management is the process by which a team or individual organizes and manages the resources and processes required to fulfill and deliver a project.
Remember, a project is not the same as a process or an operation — underlying all projects is a start date, an end date and a set of goals or objectives that must be met.
What is Product Development
On the other hand, product development is the multi-step process by which a product is conceived, launched for testing or beta, released to the market and continuously iterated on.
Unlike project management, it doesn’t have a set start and end date but instead involves the full journey of the product throughout its lifecycle for as long as that may be.
Some of this journey might include:
- Idea creation or conceptualization.
- Product roadmap development.
- MVP creation and presentation to initial users or testers.
- Feedback recording and management.
- Iteration of the MVP to a production-ready product based on feedback.
How you can support your Project Management team?
Now we have clarified the difference, let’s take a look at how we, as leaders, C-Levels or management can fully support our teams or individuals responsible for project management or product development and management processes.
Project managers and teams responsible for overseeing the deliverance of project objectives need to work in a software ecosystem that supports them throughout every step of this process.
Broken down, they need these five features at a minimum:
- Creating and assigning tasks to colleagues.
- Calendar tracking and integrations.
- Due dates and follow up tasks to ensure deliverables are shipped at the right time.
- Task visualization through a Kanban system or task list.
- Team collaboration and access control.
Luckily, there are tens of fit for purpose project management suites and tools out there.
In fact, project management tools are one of the top SaaS products in terms of market saturation, not far behind CRM tools.
Here are two of my favorite tools that I use for project management in our SaaS company to keep everyone on track:
- Asana — Founded by one of the founding team at Facebook, Asana is a superb tool that I personally love to use for both personal to-dos and larger content marketing and customer acquisition projects. It’s fast, secure and free!
Asana is a great project management tool for Enterprise
- Trello — Trello is one of the simplest platforms for visualizing tasks, acting as a software implementation of the SCRUM and agile working system. Also free, Trello offers single founders and large enterprises the freedom to assign tasks to their team, collaborate and power up their account with add ons.
Trello is a superb free tool for building SCRUM boards.
However, these tools are not designed for managing or working in product development functions and aren’t suited for the intricate needs of product designers, product marketing teams that need to gain feedback for use in campaigns or product developers who need to iterate the concept based on feedback received.
These tools and 99% of project management tools weren’t designed for this and therefore lead to inefficiency, frustration and poor customer-facing experiences if you expose a public roadmap for your product or software.
Now, let’s look at some better-suited solutions for product teams.
How you can support your Product Management team?
Product managers, designers, engineers and product development teams are a different bread, with different needs and different responsibilities.
You can’t push the same tools that the rest of your organization use for projects, otherwise you’ll end up with a frustrated team of people struggling to get the feedback that they need from users, which results in poor product-market fit and loss of revenue.
In some extreme cases (I’ve personally experienced this), building a product with the wrong tools and no customer involvement can result in a total product launch failure.
Nothing is more de-motivating for the team involved than that, especially as they likely have been complaining of the wrong tools for a while!
Similar to how I looked at project management tools, your product team needs the following:
- Ability to gain direct feedback from customers or stakeholders.
- System to collect this in one place, and make sense of the data to act on.
- Prioritization system for feature requests, bug fixing or update schedules.
- Team collaboration and secure access control for Enterprise environments.
- Discussion system for driving product led conversations and orient customers around your roadmap/product releases.
That is the bare minimum, and there aren’t anywhere near as many niche tools built for this use case but below are some of my favorites and the fittest for purpose:
- ProductFlare — ProductFlare is specifically built from the ground up for providing the most value to product developers and teams in larger organizations in the SaaS market. Meeting all of the above requirements and many more, like embeddable roadmaps, custom domain and branding of ideaboards/roadmaps, integrating with your user base to track user requests/votes and even embeddable customer-facing changelog widgets, ProductFlare is the go-to for customers like Zapier, Box, Randstad and Marketplan or any team wanting to rally everyone around their products.
ProductFlare is the go-to for product development for SaaS and Enterprise
- Canny — Canny is a great tool for simply building roadmaps, but is similar to Trello in it’s simplicity and limitations in features. Although a great tool for some companies, Canny for larger organisations or startups can get quite expensive based on the number of users you want to track feedback from. It is also general-purpose, so if you are a SaaS company look for a SaaS-built tool like Announcefly to get the most bang for your buck.
Canny is a strong tool for general roadmaps.
- Uservoice — A long-standing tool in the product development space, Uservoice boasts some larger clients. However, it appears the tool’s design has remained stagnant and you may find that customer-facing widgets damage the look/design of your software or website as they are fairly antiquated compared to the design standards of Announcefly and Canny.
So, we’ve looked at what project management is and how it differs to product development, and also what tools are best suited to get the job done for your team.
Being a decision-maker, it is your duty to ensure your employees have what they need to get their work done efficiently with the greatest return on investment.
If you have the budget, it’s critical to allocate a small percentage to the right tools in order to grow a sustainable and efficient team.
Let me know in the comments if you have any different tools you’d like to share, or agree/disagree with any of my comments!
If you’d like more free tips, tricks and content delivered to your inbox, leave your email below!