Project Management vs. Product Management: What's the Difference and How Both Can Help Retailers

Project Management vs. Product Management: What's the Difference and How Both Can Help Retailers

Product management, project management for retail | Shopify Retail blog

As a growing retailer, you're often tasked with overseeing individual projects and also ensure you meet long-term business goals. Juggling both of these views can be challenging as a retailer.

Chris Guillot, founder of Merchant Method and instructional designer of The Merchant Map, trains brick-and-mortar retailers to be more successful in their businesses. Everything from tackling operational challenges to branding — she knows retail inside and out.

One frequent challenge she sees retailers face is distinguishing between project management and product management. The two concepts are invaluable to retailers, she says, but they’re often confused, misused, or misunderstood.

To clear up any confusion, we’re outlining what project management and product management are in retail, and how you can use the two simultaneously for business success.

What Is Project Management?

Project management for retailers | Shopify Retail blogAccording to the Project Management Institute, project management is the “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.”

Essentially, it’s the blueprint for a finite project or initiative.

The Project Management Institute states that project management incorporates a few key components:

  • Initiating
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Monitoring and controlling
  • Closing

They also describe that project management accounts for integration, scope, time, cost, quality, procurement, human resources, communications, risk management, and stakeholder management.

“Project management is how someone makes real progress in business,” says Guillot. “It includes planning strategic goals, allocating resources, mitigating risks, and removing obstacles.”

In retail, project management could be used for a range of initiatives. Here are a few example scenarios where you’d use project management principles to put it into perspective:

Project management is helpful for retailers because it takes the decision-making process out of the heat of the moment, allowing you to think through scenarios more rationally.

“You’re making a batch of decisions when the stakes are lower, and when it’s time to execute, you just follow through on your plan,” says Guillot. “By batching those decisions together, it helps to avoid decision fatigue. If you're making decisions all the time, you may not be as sharp or creative in your decision-making.”

What Is Product Management?

Product management software company Aha! explains product management as such: “Product management is an important organizational role. Product managers are typically found at companies that are building products or technology for customers or internal use. This role evolved from the brand manager position that is often found at consumer packaged goods companies.”

Product management focuses on the strategy, development, release, and sale of merchandise. It’s an ongoing, high-level task that focuses on the big picture.

“Product management encompasses everything related to how retailers generate revenue,” says Guillot.

When it comes to specific tasks and deliverables, product management may include a product roadmap, product vision, release plan, promotion strategy, feature definition, and ongoing product support. Here are some scenarios where you may need to use product management in your retail business:

  • Strategically repricing merchandise
  • Re-mapping a merchandise hierarchy in Shopify
  • Producing a photo shoot for new merchandise
  • Taking a physical inventory count
  • Processing return-to-vendors (RTVs)

The Difference Between Project Management and Product Management

Product management versus project management | Shopify Retail blogIn short, product management is the high-level strategy, and project management is the tactical execution. Product management comes first, and project management happens to make the vision set forth by product management become a reality.


Product management

Project management

Strategic focus

Supports a strategic plan

Market demand

Execution

Product development

Resource allocation

Product release

Feasibility

Sales and profit

Risk management


Guillot spells it out with a metaphor:

“One of the analogies I like to use is a healthy lifestyle. If a healthy lifestyle is a product that includes fitness and meditation and nutrition, then project management is the meal planning. Once a week, you spend a lot of time putting together your menu, grocery shopping, and prepping your meals for the week. But it pays off because you don’t have to make many choices during the week. You just follow through.”

Using Product and Project Management to Boost Your Retail Business

But understanding the difference between project management and product management isn’t the secret to success. Knowing how the two work together is where retailers can find the real value.

When project management and product management work in tandem, you find revenue and profit.

“I like to think of the intersection between project management and product management as the place where revenue and profit live,” says Guillot. “When they intersect successfully, a retailer is really positioned to grow both top line and bottom line.”

But many businesses are distracted by the shiny object. “Retailers focus on product management, because it’s tangible and more immediately tied to revenue,” says Guillot.

That’s why it’s so important to focus on the big picture with product management, while project management can come into play when addressing specific issues or challenges.

“Being able to take the big-picture view that a product manager has and the tactical execution that a project manager has to make sure that the business is healthy, that the forest is healthy, but also each individual tree is healthy,” Guillot says.

Kookaburra Kids (currently Petite Boutique Kids) is a children's boutique that sells gently used clothing, accessories and new gifts. When one of its former owners purchased the store and wanted to revamp its look for something fresh while keeping the neighborhood charm intact, Guillot worked with them on product and project management plans to prep for the grand opening.

Their approach helped the store snag a spot as one of Red Tricycle's Top Ten in Seattle. Here’s how they broke the store launch down:

  • Product management:
    • Assessed products and revenue within each product category to determine which items to stop, continue, or start carrying
    • Remapped the store blueprint to allocate more space to the highest revenue-generating department
    • Developed a color palette, merchandising vignettes, and overall aesthetic for the store
  • Project management:
    • Swapped out nearly half of the floor fixtures with found and vintage items
    • Created a sustainable rotating window display strategy
    • Debuted the grand opening in five weeks

Moving Forward With Product and Project Management for Retail

How do you use project management and product management in your business? In what ways have they supported your growth? Let us know in the comments below!

Photo of Alexandra Sheehan

About the Author

Alexandra Sheehan is a freelance writer/editor and content specialist. She’s worked with retailers ranging from Fortune 100 companies to Etsy shop owners, and is always looking for innovative ways to help her clients.

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