What kind of Manager are you today (or want to become tomorrow)?

Project Manager vs Product Manager vs Engineering Manager

There are three popular kind of Managers in the IT organizations today — Project Manager, Product manager and Engineering Manager. IT organizations or business units have one or more of these openings and sometimes a combination of these like Technical Product Manager.

In this post, I intend to share my experience of how each of these roles function and their context. The primary intention of this post is to help those aspiring to take one of these roles in future. This post should also be helpful for those serving leadership positions in an organization on how to structure/re-structure their middle management with right role functions in place.

The Project Manager

  • Think COO in the making
  • Role is derived from Project Management
  • Increased profit and production cost reduction are the success metrics
  • Focused internally
  • Key Skills: Contract Negotiation, Budgeting, Resource Management
  • Contract and Project-plan drives development work
  • The mindset is waterfall-ish with the tendency to stick to or follow the project plan.
  • There is a huge resistance to change.
  • Failure is a taboo
  • Is from Operations Research discipline. Heck, even people are seen as resources.
  • Autocratic or Authoritative leadership style is often demonstrated
  • Fits better in areas of work where changes are not the norm.
  • Who loves it? Traditional industries like automotive, manufacturing, power etc. Consulting companies in the field of IT love this role for the extra bucks it gets.

The Product Manager

  • Think CPO in the making
  • Role is derived from Product Management
  • Increased profit, Product reach and impact are the success metrics
  • Focused externally most importantly
  • Key Skills: Business Negotiation, Domain Expertise, People Influence
  • Frequent Negotiation with business drives development work
  • The mindset is to build the right product with a sense of business agility and a tendency to change plan if required
  • Changes are debated and influenced
  • Embraces early failures
  • Is multi-disciplinary. One has got to be analytical, creative, domain-oriented, tech-oriented, team-oriented, customer-oriented, end-user oriented etc.
  • Consultative and Participatory leadership style shines better in this role
  • Shines well in areas of work where changes are the norm; where there is fluidity to what you build.
  • Who loves it? Product companies have this role.

Engineering Manager

  • Think CTO in the making
  • Role is derived out of Technology Management. Technology was undermined for very long time.
  • Ability to control defects, deliver faster, and scale are the success metrics
  • Focused internally most importantly
  • Key Skills: Technical expertise, People Management, Coaching skills
  • Ability to frequently deliver quality product that scales, is a thing that drives development work
  • The mindset is to build the product right with right tech-stack employing right tools and embracing the right engineering practices.
  • Changes are ideally debated and influenced
  • Embraces early failures
  • Is from the Technology discipline with a good dose of people skills.
  • Leadership style is a mix of Authoritative and Participatory ones. It depends on team/organization/context.
  • Shines well in areas of work that requires tech leadership.
  • Who loves it? Product companies have this role.

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