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I asked a similar question in Workplace SE and was advised to ask here. Note I am not an IT person / programmer but more of a business analyst - I do use a lot of IT tools though.

I am 3-4 years out of college in the same company and manage the team I started in (analytics). I enjoy the role, enjoy developing people, growing the team, managing crossfunctional teams to help our goals and helping other teams with our expertise.

Now some directors are asking me to prepare for more project management roles, and I am unsure whether this will move me away from the "corporate ladder". I am even unsure whether it's a tacit hint that they don't like me to be in my current team (they asked me to groom a successor so I can focus more on my next role).

But anyway, the main reasons I ask this is...

1) to understand where exactly project management fits as opposed to other management levels in the organization - especially because there seems to be so much about noise but nothing very specific about the topic out there, even certifications and professional bodies. So it seems like a profession of itself.

2) And, whether it will put me away from the track of developing seniority and moving up in my current department. i.e. Is moving to project management something more of a "lateral promotion"?

  • Hey Jack, we actually discourage cross-posting on our sites because it spreads answers all around and makes it harder for folks to vote and rank them. I was actually thinking that the question, and your answer, would be found in the list of similar questions I uncovered for you in this search result. Does anything there by chance already answer your question? Hope this helps. – jmort253 Feb 8 '14 at 10:13
  • Actually, it looks like this is a slightly different question and isn't a copy/paste. This is good! Thank you for taking the time to write this as a separate question. Good luck! – jmort253 Feb 8 '14 at 10:18
  • Have you done any preliminary research, or is this the first place you looked? – Mark C. Wallace Apr 17 '14 at 10:48
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There are more similarities than differences between these two types of management. I would submit that there are no differences in the soft skills used in either management. The differences you would experience is that a project has a definite end where as a department, or any operational function, has an indefinite end.

Therefore, the set of different skills one would have for a project would be around managing the definite end. This means there are a set of product materials and methods and tools you would use that you would not like see in operations management, e.g., a project charter, a work product that defines the project in terms of scope, provides authority for a project manager, may provide a high level view of the project costs and perhaps overall goals and objectives and organizational benefits. Other tools could be things like critical path management and earned value to monitor cost and schedule. However, you would have a set of tools and products that would perform similar things in an operations.

Communications are important in both; however, in a project you might find communications to be a bit more important, more targeted, more purposeful, simply because you have a definite end you have to hit. Other areas of management, I think, you will find to be quite similar if not exactly the same.

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While David Espina answered quite well your first question, I will focus on your second one.

When senior managers in a company are trying to figure out who to promote into management it is not always easy to know who will succeed in that role. The cost of failure is quite high in that if you promote a strongly-competent worker into management and they show they cannot handle it, usually they will leave the company rather than be demoted back to their original position (or the company will live with their bad decision (a la the Peter Principle).

One safer path for senior management to take is to move someone into a position of project manager. As David wrote, there are more similarities than differences between the two. So, if you succeed in the role of PM, it could open the door for a permanent management position. If you do not succeed, when the project is over, it's over and you return to your previous position. No fuss, no muss.

If you succeed as a PM, the company will likely want you to become a manager, when there is an appropriate opening.

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I'm going to offer you some very blunt advice. Do preliminary research before you ask any question. If you want to know about project management and the role it plays in the modern enterprise:

  • Start with a wikipedia search on project management .
  • search PM:SE
  • Perhaps before you assert that "nothing very specific about the topic out there, even certifications and professional bodies", you might want to check pmi.org.
  • Then finally when you decide to ask a community of professional project managers about their profession, consider carefully language such as "there seems to be so much about noise"

With respect to your second question, if corporate directors are giving you advice and you're worrying about whether they are trying to ease you out of your current position, that indicates to me a very serious lack of faith in your management. If I were in a situation where that level of paranoia occured to me, I'd start my job search immediately.

Projects are temporary endeavors; almost by definition, there will be more projects than products or lines of business. Project management can be a way to give a junior person some management experience - to show that the individual is ready for more responsibility. @Earthling has covered this well.

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Project management is the coordination of tasks and resources to create something by and/or before a certain date. The something created can be anything.

For instance, a department manager will make sure that quality hamburgers are served in a quality manner in a reasonable time. Each hamburger served is essentially considered a project completed.

Project management is the exact same thing. Except project management doesn't focus on tasks that are repeated. The department manager will ensure that each hamburger is served as it should be. Whereas the project manager will invent a new hamburger by a certain date. Project managers can also focus on repetitive tasks, however their main objective is to complete a one-time task or project.

Project and department managers are exactly the same. They both have goals, but the project manager only achieves a goal only once. Department managers don't invent a new hamburgers, project managers can. And the moment a department manager begins to invent a new hamburger is exactly the moment that person is being a project manager and not a department manager.

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