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Functional Project Managers
By Johanna Rothman

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 had a discussion about who does what. The big problem facing these matrixed project managers was: how can they learn the state of the project without looking like they were micromanaging the technical staff, and how can they behave so that people won’t feel they 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.

Johanna Rothman consults, speaks, and writes on managing high-technology product development. Johanna is the author of Manage It!’Your Guide to Modern Pragmatic Project Management’. She is the coauthor of the pragmatic Behind Closed Doors, Secrets of Great Management, and author of the highly acclaimed Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People. And, Johanna is a host and session leader at the Amplifying Your Effectiveness (AYE) conference ( You can see Johanna’s other writings at

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