What’s the difference between product manager, project manager and delivery manager?

Product manager, project manager and delivery manager each play a different role on a modern agile development team, but share a focus on achieving the outcome of the work.

Overlapping focus for product managers, project managers and delivery managers

What do product managers do?

Product managers focus on:

  • Vision – Understand the problems the product aims to solve, who has those problems, and why they are worth solving.
  • Strategy – Present how the product will solve the problem, and how solving the problems will achieve organisational objectives and meet user needs.
  • Alignment – Ensure the product vision and strategy are aligned with organisational objectives and stakeholders expectations, and that the team are aligned on the problem and the solution.
  • Prioritisation – Decide which the parts of the solution achieve the most for the organisation and the users.
  • Value – Understand the value users will get from using the product and where they might lack value they expect.
  • Cost – Balance the cost of building the product with the expected return on investment over the life time of the product.

What do project managers do?

Project managers focus on:

  • Planning – Coordinate all aspects of the project to meet the project goals.
  • Cost – Monitor and report on the cost of the project.
  • Time – Understand the schedule of work and monitor progress.
  • Governance – Ensure the project follows organisational control procedures.
  • Resourcing & dependencies – Monitor project resources and escalate dependencies.
  • Risks & issues – Monitor and resolve risks and issues that may impact the success of the project.

What do delivery managers do?

Delivery managers focus on:

  • Time – Decide how the development team best uses the time available.
  • Value – Understand what value the user should get from the product.
  • Scope – Control the scope of work that the development team work on the ensure the solution is appropriate and proportional to the problem.
  • Quality – Ensure the solution meets quality standards, e.g. accessibility and security.
  • Barriers – Remove barriers and impediments that slow down the development team.
  • Process – Implement, monitor and improve the processes the team uses to manage it’s work.

How do all three work together?

All three overlap with a focus on the outcome. All three roles succeed if the work achieves the outcome it set out to.

The Project Manager and Delivery Manager overlap their focus on time. For the Project Manager

The Product Manager and Project Manager overlap their focus on cost. This includes all investments into the project and product to ensure a positive return is going to be achieved.

The Delivery Manager and the Product Manager share a focus on the value that end user of the solution will receive. For the Delivery Manager, value is closely connected to scope of the work as defining and building the wrong product or feature risks reducing the value it provides.

Although each role has different aspects to focus on, good teams don’t work in isolation and support each other to succeed.

Why is defining what product managers do so difficult?

Product management suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. Actually, maybe crisis is too strong a term. Maybe it’s an identity butterflies-in-the-tummy kind of thing. It’s the feeling product managers get when asked to explain what they do. Sometimes it’s an opportunity to express a new found idea about the role, sometimes it’s a roll of the eyes as they know they’re going to sound like they don’t know how to define their own role.

There are lots of industry through-leader definitions though. Things like:

A product manager is the person who identifies the customer need and the larger business objectives that a product or feature will fulfill, articulates what success looks like for a product, and rallies a team to turn that vision into a reality.


Product management is a complex role that requires a balance of soft and hard skills to manage requirements and to deliver quality products that align with the business’ goals.


Not the CEO of product


But still, as Trilly Chatterjee, Senior Product Manager at the NHS, notes, product managers still have trouble explaining “what product management is and what it does —in particular how it’s distinct from other roles“.

But why? What makes product management so different from other roles in ways that make it difficult to define?

Sure, it’s a highly contextual role that depends on the sector and the organisation, but that doesn’t answer the question, it just asks it in a different way; why is product management so contextual in a way that makes it difficult to define?

And sure, it’s been/going through a change of where it fits in the organisation thanks to the agile movement shifting product management from being a purely business function to often being in the Technology department, but that’s a pretty common change across every sector so that doesn’t explain the lack of definition either.

Maybe there is something that might…

In The Team That Managed Itself, Christina Wodtke mentions the idea that for some roles in an organisation it’s the process that counts, whilst other roles are concerned with results. The people in the service teams of an organisation judge what they do by how well their processes are working, their efficiency. And the people on the business side are less interested in the processes that happen behind the scenes and more about the results. The process-orientated people in the service teams and the results-orientated people in the business teams have different mindsets, motivations, and goals. They almost speak different languages.

Could it be that what makes the product manager role so hard to define is that it is concerned with both? If they were only process people they could describe themselves by the processes they use. And if they were only results people they’d describe themselves by what they achieve. Are product managers process people and results people? Do they speak both languages and translate between the two? And does that mean that they don’t really fit fully in either camp?

What if, rather than being at the intersection of a Venn diagram, product managers are actually the union?

Weeknotes #238

This week I did


It’s easy to leap to solutions without understanding what the problem is that you’re trying to solve. This week was busy with trying to get an understanding of what problems we’re actually trying to solve with the products we’re being asked to build quickly for projects with tight timelines. I heard someone say (on a podcast, I think) ‘make the right things to make things right’, and it stuck with me. I also talked quite a bit about us trialing products purely with the intention of learning. I feel like we have lots to learn, so the sooner we start the quicker we’ll figure out the things we need to in order to help young people get effective training online.

Does digital creativity differ from non-digital creativity?

I finished my assignment ‘Does digital creativity differ from non-digital creativity?’ Spoiler: It does. I’ve learned about lots of interesting things in this module, and for this essay, about digital media. I’d really like to have time to go back over some of the ideas and write blog posts about them but that’s going to have to wait until after my dissertation is finished.

I read:

Digital Scotland Service Standard

The service standard aims to make sure that services in Scotland are continually improving and that users are always the focus. I like the idea of service standards. Although they seem quite aspirational and a little immature at the moment with few real-life examples of how standards have been implemented effectively, they are a great way to help others understand what it means to be ‘digital’. I know it’s a very different thing, but the standard that explains how to manufacture a bolt is very specific about measurements, tolerances, etc., but maybe it that’s just my understanding of the word ‘standard’, which isn’t the point here. The point is that even though some of the standards in the Digital Scotland Service Standard feel a bit context specific, overall it’s brilliant.

Climate impact of digital

Don’t watch this video 😉

Our digital world

I feel Like, Swipe, Click, Repeat & Change by Peter Trainor and New Public – For Better Digital Public Spaces complement each other and should be read together. One is about the effects social media sites have on us and the other is a about creating better digital spaces.

Reading list

My notes contains lots other things I’ve read this week.

And thought about:

Measures of influence

I had a thought that maybe a measure of influence is how many times someone has to say something for people to take notice of it. I could repeat the same message time and time again and no one would take any notice, because I have low influence. Seth Godin says something once and thousands of people listen to it, because he has high influence. On a smaller scale, it might be an interesting way to measure your influence at work.

Play jazz

After some conversations with Jonathan Holden on Twitter, I’ve been thinking a bit about how our use of militaristic (and so masculine) language relates to our mental models about work and groups of people organised to achieve common goals. Do creative/artistic endeavors offer a better way to think about it? Musicians can play alone, in perfectly in-sync large orchestras, and improvising in jazz bands.

Affordances and proto-affordances

I’m intrigued by the idea of affordances. An affordance is an object’s sensory characteristics which imply its functionality and use. The idea allows designers to “design for usefulness by creating affordances (the possibilities for action in the design) that match the goals of the user“. It seems like the missing gap between what a product is intended to achieve for a user and the design of the user interface.

Some people tweeted:

Positioning product management

Scott Colfer tweeted, “What do product managers like? No, not Venn diagrams. Quadrants! This one shows the range of what product management can look like (in my experience). Helps me when someone asks ‘how do I become a PM?” It’s a really useful way to think about how product managers move around in there role on the axis between tactical and strategic, and between generalist and specialist. So at the daily stand-up a PM might be a tactical generalist talking about UX decisions for a web page and later that day might be acting as a strategic specialist on the digital safeguarding.

Tweet-Syllabus: Prioritization 101 ⏱

Nick deWilde tweeted, “The most successful people I’ve met aren’t the ones who work the hardest. They are the ones who prioritize the right things to work on. These 7 concepts & resources will help you decide what to prioritize in your work and life” I found this interesting because I’ve been thinking about what we really mean when we casually talk about prioritisation for a few weeks. I’m not convinced by some of the tweets, for example that value is only measured by money, but the one about how every system has constraints and that when projects put pressure on a constraint it causes chaos is interesting. Considering bottlenecks in that way helps us think about the knock-on effects rather than just that one constraint in isolation.

Remote work research

Eat Sleep Work Repeat tweeted, “A lot of people saw that viral thread about remote work last week, chock full of unattributed opinion claiming that the office ‘was over’. Let’s try and use some evidence… what does published research tell us about what’s going to happen to our workplaces?” It’s interesting how the pendulum of remote working has swung between ‘the end of the office’ and ‘get back to normal’ and is finding the middle position between home and office. It’s also interesting how much of the discussion about the future of work centres around the location of people. Is that really the most important aspect about effective working, or is it just because its the most obvious and easiest thing to talk about it?

What is product management?

The role of Product Management is to facilitate movement in the direction set by strategic leadership by:

  • Managing the interface between the organisation and the customer to align customer value with business objectives.
  • Managing integration within the organisation, vertically between strategic leadership and technical delivery and horizontally between teams and functions across the organisation, to .
  • Managing the feedback loops from the interface and the integrations to affect strategic direction.

Product manager is a temporary role whilst companies learn to interface with their customers and integrate their other functions.

If a company had all its teams and functions fully integrated and pointed at providing value for customers would it still need specific teams with that focus? Product teams solve a specific organisational problem, if that problem is solved another way then there is no need for those teams.

Towards deliberate practice for Product Managers

Running around, getting things done, staying on top of your to do list, too busy to stop and think about how we work not just what work we do. Sounds familiar.

Taking time to stop and think about taking a more deliberate approach to our practice of being product managers is time well spent.

Calling it a practice is important. It implies that we approach it in a considered and consistent way in an attempt to get better.

I’ve written previously about being more reflective in our practice, and I think being reflective is part of a good practice, but there is a lot more to it.

Good practices are effectiveness multipliers. They provide a frame for approaching work, start conversations, offer a fallback in times of uncertainty, and justify the professionalism of product management.

There are things to learn from other endeavors such as sports and music where practice literally means focused repetition of the things you want to improve on, and art where an artist’s practice involves them developing their own ways of working.

So what might a good product management practice look like? Given my definition of a Product Manager being a balancer of risk and opportunity, I think any definition of a practice needs to have balance in it. Rather than a hard line of ‘this but not that’ it should create space around things for individual PM’s to evolve a practice that suits them (like an artist) but it needs enough definition and clarity to enable the deliberate practice of the things that make up the practice.

It might include:

  • Repeatable but flexible – A good practice should have repeatable processes that the PM knows works for achieving certain outcomes but it should be flexible enough to choose how and when to apply a process, method or tool and to not apply any method.
  • Consistent but with continuous improvement – Practices should be continuously reviewed and adjusted to improve but too much unstructured change results in instability and not being able to implement consistently.
  • Reflective but action-oriented – Reflecting on what you are doing, why you’re doing it that way, and how its working for you is an important part of learning and improving your practice. But every practice needs more action than thinking. Practice is still about taking action and getting things done, just deliberately so.
  • Independent but Shareable/Join-in-able – Practices should be standalone so they dont become entangled with other business processes but should be so other people can get involved, understand what you are doing and why, and add extra value.