Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen? Project Manager vs Functional Managers
In theory, no one would ever create a team of 30 people and appoint only one manager to look after the whole team. But in reality, many companies do this on a daily basis and set the projects up for failure from the very beginning.
It’s obvious that the number of required roles depends on the size of the organisation and the size of the project. But we need to stop expecting PMs to be the only management role for large project teams. Even though the initial cost of introducing functional managers will be higher, the company executives need to consider the future benefits of investing in a management layer.
Project manager Vs Functional manager: What’s the difference?
A functional manager is a person in charge of a specific business unit (e.g. Development Team Manager, Sales Manager, Marketing Manager, Customer Service Manager, etc.). This person has a specific skill set, knowledge and expertise necessary for management the team in their field.
Specifically, functional managers deal with:
- Conveying knowledge and expertise to the team: for example, if you are a data architect manager, you will give professional suggestions and provide directions to people within your department to improve processes related to data architecture.
- Resource management: FMs make sure their team has all resources it needs.
- Work management: FMs are responsible for tracking processes and managing tasks.
- Process improvement: FMs provides all necessary tools (coaching, training, education) to encourage the best practices and deal with any inefficiency within their team.
In other words, a functional manager is a person who is directly affiliated with one organisational department (one team with specific skills that should meet certain project objectives) and has management authority over it.
A project manager, on the other hand, is responsible for bringing all project teams within the organisation together and ensuring they can accomplish specialised tasks within a required time.
Both functional managers and project managers have to work together, share resources and experience to improve efficiency and overall performance.
Is it possible to switch between these two?
The project manager who has a strong talent, knowledge and expertise in a particular field can also take the role of the functional manager. For example, a PM who is an experienced software engineer can be also the Development Manager. Or a PM with marketing experience can take a Marketing Manager role.
A functional manager with good coordination and communication skills could also move into a Project Management role. Note that this role requires the highest level of decision making, time management, interpersonal and communication skills.
Does your company need functional managers?
It’s normal to have the initial resistance to the idea of having more managers (often for budgeting reasons). However, the benefits of having functional managers who can ACTUALLY spend time with their teams pay it all off. You will experience not only improvements in the way your team performs but also improvements in team morale and engagement. People will have more ‘face’ time with their functional managers, and therefore feel more valued as team members.