Functional Managers, Project Managers, Matrix Managers


In the Hiring Geeks That Fit book, I wrote this (p. 261):

Functional managers organize the work of similar people (people performing a given function). They hand off their deliverables to another group. Project managers coordinate the work of numerous people to deliver a product to the organization. Matrix managers manage people of a similar function and deliver people to the projects.

In the hiring book, I wanted people to understand the problems these managers solve. But here, I want to explore a bit about how those managers intersect, and how to avoid many managers for one person, especially if the project managers work in a matrix organization.

I taught a project management workshop recently, and has a discussion about who does what. The big problem facing these matrixed project managers was: how did they learn the state of the project without looking like they were micromanaging the technical staff, and how to behave so that people didn't have two managers, both telling them what to do?

Here's how I separate the work of the functional managers and the project managers when the project managers are matrixed into the organization to lead projects:

Functional Manager Project Manager
Assign project Assign work for project
Discuss how well person is doing that work and if person wants to continue doing it (providing opportunities for growth) Discuss state of work for project
Gather information from other PMs to write the evaluation Provide feedback about performance/work on this project at least weekly
Work with employee to set and coach on career goals Work with employee to improve specific skills as they relate to this project

The functional manager and the project managers have different ranges of vision. The functional manager reviews the strategy of the group and how well people are performing that strategy. The project manager is tactical, focused on finishing this project successfully.

If you're both a functional manager and a project manager (how do you do that??), keep at least some time every week to review the strategic picture and make sure you're fulfilling the strategy. It's too easy to let the project needs overwhelm you.

4 Replies to “Functional Managers, Project Managers, Matrix Managers”

  1. I once set up a matrix management structure for a consulting company. The functional manager didn’t really need to know project status. They did need to know how the person was doing and when that person would be free.
    What made this work well was that we set up a compensation system based on customer satisfaction. So – if customers were happy and work was being performed within budget then by definition the consultant was doing his job.
    I imagine that in an in house setting things may be more difficult as the standards for success are not as clearly defined.

  2. I am a functional manager at the moment. Up until October, I was the manager of a Product support and development team of 5. We had a product suite consisting of 7 integrated applications serving a internal customer base of about 1000 users. Now we have re-organized into a functional structure – I am directly managing 12 employees and 14 contractors doing application support and maintenance for something like 12 or 15 software products. I have most of my old team, and 6 other teams.
    I have been asked to develop a plan to cross train these individuals to build out a mega-support team.
    What is conspicuously missing are product leaders to “own” the maintenance queue for each product. Unfortunately, all of the folks who were doing this before (like myself) were moved into a development team or to management roles.
    Most of my staff are the “do-ers” hard-working salt-of-the-earth analysts but not interested in or obviously capable of leadership.

  3. I have seen many comments on project management but not many on program management. You seem to teach class on both disciplines. Do you have any comparitive analysis on the disiplines that you would like to share?

  4. Having actually been in this situation a few times, I like the way you’ve got it broken down.
    The one wildcard is when the team memeber is having a personality conflict with the PM, and you as Func. Manager, need to get involved. You sometimes wind up having to manage the PM as well as the engineer.
    So I’d say that’s its pretty important to be involved in the project at least as an observer, if not an active voice.

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