“What is the difference between a product and a project manager?”
I am often asked that question, especially these days since you see both roles often used (erroneously) interchangeably. The important question though is not simply what is the difference between those two roles, but really what are the critical roles and responsibilities in game / product development? How do they work together and against each other? How do you build a team of people who share mutual admiration and respect for the different skills each bring to the table?
Let’s start with roles and responsibilities - Roles are broken into responsibility and authority. You can not be held responsible for something you didn’t have authority over.
Product Manager - Responsibility and authority over the business of the game.
Designer - Responsibility and authority over the player experience of the game.
Project Manager - Responsibility and authority over the schedule of the game and the health / morale of the team.
Each role has a person or aspect they serve or champion and when in gridlock, they carry a trump card of authority on. In the case of design, when in subjective debates of what is, “fun”, the designer is the person who holds authority over this domain, because, at the end of the day, they are the ones who will be held accountable for the results. For product managers, when the discussions are about what will make the most money, improve engagement, vitality or retention, they get to make the final call. Lastly project managers have an often overlooked responsibility to the team. It is almost perfunctory to say a project Manager owns the schedule, but a great project manager also has the pulse of the team and knows how hard they can push, what they will push for (as different people are motivated by different things), and when it is time to get some easy wins in. It is this triumvirate that fights collaboratively together to make the best overall product, feature by feature, point by point.
So what is the role of an executive producer (or general manager)? In an ideal world everything naturally works itself out and everyone agrees on what the best course of action is all the time, but alas that is rarely the case. This is where the executive producer role comes into play, they are the arbiter and decision makers for the overall product success (the balance of fun, business and time). Where as each of the triumvirate have their domain to fight for, it is the executive producer’s job to see all the pieces of the puzzle as a gestalt and discern the best course of action. Like the golden triangle of project management - good, fast, cheap and you can only pick two, the executive producer balances these tradeoffs - fun, monetizing or fast and you can only pick two. This is not to say that is the only job of the executive producer, but more on that in a future post …