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Project Management Titles
By Michael D. Taylor

Titles such as Project Manager, Program Manager, and Product Manager are often used interchangeably even though there is a definite role distinction between them.

Project Managers working in a matrix organization usually have overall project authority and responsibility, including schedule, cost, and scope. They are generalists, rather than technical overseers. Their job is to achieve a project goal while working within the constraints of time, money, product or service features, quality, and risks. In a matrix organization the project manager has no one reporting to him/her administratively. Instead, needed skills are “borrowed” from the functional managers. The project managers own the work while the functional managers own the resources.

Program Managers perform a role which is similar to Project Managers except it may extend over a longer period of time and may consist of several individual projects, usually similar in nature. Program Managers often play a key role in conceiving and planning long-term project objectives, along with Functional Managers, Production Managers and Financial Managers. When a company commits to a new project, the program manager may be the individual who charters the project and selects the Project Manager.

Product Managers are usually those individuals who are given authority to oversee all aspects of a product’s lifecycle, including marketing, initial development, testing, production, upgrades, and sales. In this role they are sometimes referred to as product-line managers. Product Managers may have Project Managers reporting to them during the initial product design, development and test phases.

Other Roles Confused with the Project Manager Title. There are times when a technical individual is promoted to the position of “project manager” but their role is simply to oversee the technical portions of a project and to keep it on track using commercial schedule software. Their role is primarily one of a technical Project Coordinator, or Project Expediter. They are really not Project Managers since they do not have overall project authority and responsibility.

Functional Managers may sometimes be called Project Managers but in fact they are not because they perform an entirely different role. Theirs is to bring in highly skilled personnel to the corporation and assign them to the projects in a matrix organization. They also ensure that skilled specialists are kept current in their field through training and development. Functional managers generally provide the technical input to the projects, supplying skilled individuals, as needed, to support suggested technologies and processes.

MICHAEL D. TAYLOR, M.S. in systems management, B.S. in electrical engineering, has more than 30 years of project, outsourcing, and engineering experience. He is principal of Systems Management Services, and has conducted project management training at the University of California, Santa Cruz Extension in their PPM Certificate program for over 13 years, and at companies such as Sun Microsystems, GTE, Siemens, TRW, Loral, Santa Clara Valley Water District, and Inprise. He also taught courses in the UCSC Extension Leadership and Management Program (LAMP), and was a guest speaker at the 2001 Santa Cruz Technology Symposium. His website is www.projectmgt.com.

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