• What are the fundamental differences between a functional manager and a project manager
  • Is it possible to switch from a job as project manager to one as a functional manager? (provided I know about the specifics of the function of course)
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Functional Manager will be dealing with:

  • Expertise of that specific function. If you are the Data Architect manager, you will know and strive for the best processes, technology, and management of all things related to data architecture.
  • Resource management. The needs of the data architects are not the same as the needs of the sales team.
  • Cost related to the function. Training to make sure skills are there. Conferences, corporation compliance with standards ISO, etc.
  • Load balancing. Making sure there is always a resource available for this function.

The PM will be dealing with almost the same things but for a specific goal, instead of a function.

I think is possible for a manager to switch to a project manager, and pm to switch to a manager. Both are very possible.

A Functional Manager is in charge of a specific business unit. Here are some examples of Functional Managers:

  • Development Team Manager
  • Sales Manager
  • Marketing Manager
  • Accounts Receivable Manager
  • Contact Center Manager
  • Customer Service Manager

Each one of these managers has a specific, technical skillset in their field, and this person is likely a manager partly based on their knowledge and experience in that area. For example, the Development Manager was likely a Software Developer at one point, and the Sales Manager was likely a Sales Associate at one point in time.

Project Managers, on the other hand, work with a project team toward a specific goal. The Project Manager may have expertise in a particular field, such as Software Development, but works with a cross-functional project team to meet a specific goal.

The Project Manager may work with developers, sales associates, call center managers, customer service managers, marketing associates, and other personnel that have an impact on the project. In some cases, a Project Manager may report to a functional manager, while in other cases, such as in a Matrix Organization, Project Managers work alongside Functional Managers.

A Functional Manager with good coordination and communication skills could move into a Project Management role. Having expertise in one area of the business is helpful, and a willingness to learn a little about everything is even more helpful.

A Project Manager with a strong talent and knowledge base in one area could move into a role as a Functional Manager. For instance, a Project Manager who was a Software Engineer could move into a role as a Development Manager, or a Project Manager with marketing experience could move into a Marketing Manager role.

However, the question one must ask is Are Functional Managers or Project Managers Better Candidates for Executive-Level Positions?

I feel there is one and only one true difference between a functional manager and a project manager.

At the end of the year, the fucntional manager writes a job review.

There are three regularily accepted types of job power, Role, Expertise and Relationship. Ask around nearly any job industry and you'll get a general agreement that Role power is all but dead. A manager that uses his "Boss" power to rule his department is not going to last long. We even see the ability to hire and fire degraded for the traditional boss. To fire someone requires incredible amounts of paper work and acts of HR.

Relationship power is the primary power of getting things done. Expertise power helps to give your reltionships some firm ground to stand on.

To that end, both PMs and FMs must be good at managing people.

Here is an article describing The Three Types of Power at Work.

  • BC - Do you mind adding a link to a resource that defines your terms? Thanks. – jmort253 Mar 12 '11 at 3:16
  • Quickest one I could find was this: askmen.com/money/career_300/… . Strange site, but the content of this article is good. A lot of places try and break these down to 5 or 7, but I'm of the school that they all go back to these three. – Joel Bancroft-Connors Mar 13 '11 at 5:35
  • Thanks for the link. I feel like my organization relies more on Expert and Relationship power than the Role power. Role power is very rarely used by anyone. I feel that any organization that uses the Expert and Relationship power is an organization of true leaders. – jmort253 Mar 14 '11 at 8:59

Can you switch? Yes, the right skill set will always work both ways. But, the jobs are very different and require different application of the same skills. When you are a PM and you have a difficult team member, you usually only have to deal with that until the end of the project - temporary and specific behavior adjustment. When the same person reports to you on a day to day basis you need to deal with this behavior year after year.

That is a very good and interesting question.

What do you mean by "functional" manager? From the word "functional" comes the word "function". You can have a "function" in a software; a human being can have a "function" in a work place; or any kind of machine or process can have "functions".

A project is not a function and vice versa. A project is not necessary for the development of an app or of software. You can have a project in any kind of work environment and in any kind of work place; but a project has a starting date and an ending date, a budget and a responsible/manager.

You don't need a degree in business administration to become a manager. Many evolve from a technical job to a management job over the years when they reach a certain degree of expertise and experience.

In business administration, you have four main "dimensions": to plan, to organize, to direct and to control. You find those dimensions in all kinds of businesses. When an organization is big enough, those dimensions evolve into departments: marketing, accounting, finance, etc. And when a business is even bigger, those dimensions evolve in directions: you have the director of marketing, of accounting, of finance, etc.

A "function" is a kind of job in those departments. It is a task done by the employees of those departments. So, not all kinds of department experience will help you to become a project manager.

For example, accounting is an individual job that includes a lot of verification and control. Accounting is not right away a path to become a manager of a team and to develop a product; but it can be long-term.

In conclusion, I can say that a "functional" manager can become a project manager, but some will succeed faster than others depending on the "function" they do in their department or direction.

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