Functional Manager vs. Project Manager in IT (+ Examples)


This is about the difference between functional managers and project managers in IT.

A functional manager is someone who oversees a particular IT department.

A project manager is responsible for planning and executing IT projects.

Let’s dive right in!

What Is the Difference Between a Functional Manager and a Project Manager in IT?

The IT industry is continually bustling with new projects so technology works as it should.

In 2020, the global IT industry made over $5 trillion, with the United States containing 33% of that. 

By protecting computers from malware or increasing Internet speed, the industry does a lot to help businesses succeed. However, to make sure they run smoothly, the industry relies on both functional and project managers. 

While these positions might seem similar, they have varying roles and responsibilities to ensure success.

Below you’ll discover more about a functional manager vs. a project manager and how they differ in IT. 

What Is a Functional Manager?

A functional manager is a person who oversees a particular IT department.

Unlike a project manager, a functional manager must certify that a project has enough resources. They work alongside the project manager to check that they understand what is necessary for a project. 

They also need to talk with a project manager if revisions are required or if the project is altered to go in a different direction. 

A Typical Day for a Functional Manager

Once a project begins, an IT functional manager will work alongside the project manager to determine the best team members for the job. They will then update the project manager on the current resources available and how much is set aside for it. 

After the project manager discusses the technicalities with their team, they will then report back to the functional manager who will either approve the current work schedule or request that it be changed. 

Once they authorize it, they will monitor the progress and ask the project manager for updates. If technical problems arise, they will provide their expertise. Toward the end of the task, they will review the project and determine if it’s ready for the client. 

What Is a Project Manager?

A project manager is responsible for planning and executing an IT project. While they share many similar responsibilities with a functional manager, they instead supervise a group of people and report to the functional manager about the project’s progress. 

A project manager needs to guarantee that the project runs on time and is finished by the deadline. 

A Typical Day for a Project Manager

When an IT project manager first receives a task, they will review it and then present it to their team. They’ll brainstorm the best ways to approach the job and then assign portions of it to specific team members. 

As the project progresses, the project manager will continue to monitor members and possibly re-assign tasks. Once the job nears its completion, the project manager will review it and determine if it can be delivered to the functional manager or needs changes. 

Functional Manager vs. Project Manager—What Is the Difference Between Functional Manager and Project Manager?

Both of these roles might seem similar, but functional managers and project managers have different responsibilities. 

Functional Manager Roles and Responsibilities

Functional managers have numerous roles and responsibilities in the IT industry. So, what are the main tasks of a functional manager?

Below are just a handful of them:

Hire Employees

Functional managers must hire staff for projects. As a functional manager, you will review resumes and interview potential employees by asking various questions, including why they are interested in the position and how they learned about the company. 

Besides this, you’ll also need to ask technical questions to verify that the interviewee has the skills they claim they do. After this, you’ll be able to determine which people are best to hire. 

Ensure There Are Adequate Resources

Another responsibility a functional manager has is to make sure their department has enough resources, such as equipment and capable employees. Otherwise, the project manager might not have the ability to finish the project. 

Follow a Strict Budget

Functional managers must follow a strict budget. In addition to this, they sometimes need to estimate the costs their unit will need for a certain project. By doing so, they will see that their department is functioning cost-effectively. 

Provide Career Goal Help

A project manager will help their team members shine for their specific project. However, a functional manager will work with someone to assist them in their long-term goals. 

By doing so, they can see where an employee believes they will work best and place them in project management teams where they can succeed. 

Monitor and Update the Project Manager

This role is a slight step above a project manager. Because of this, functional managers must be in constant contact with project managers to check they understand the project and that it’s on schedule. 

They also need to quickly contact the project manager should the project scope change. 

Prepare for Risks

As a functional manager, you need to prepare for risks. Because the IT industry faces countless attacks each day, you must prepare resources and have back-ups in case something goes wrong. 

For instance, you need to make sure that if a team member makes a critical error, you can quickly restore or provide resources to keep the project going. 

Due to this, most functional managers will prepare a business risk assessment to identify possible problems and how to manage them. 

Project Manager Roles and Responsibilities 

Project managers have a vast amount of roles and responsibilities, but they slightly differ from functional manager ones. 

Utilize Good Communication

Because project managers work one-on-one with a team, they must have good communication skills. This way, they can lay out a blueprint for a project and that the team understands their role in it. 

Should questions arise, they need to provide detailed answers for the team members so the project runs smoothly. 

You’ll find that each project manager has their own communication guidelines, but most will create team schedules or do daily check-ins to see the project’s progress and if they need to contact a functional manager for resources. 

Practice Time Management

Another responsibility a project manager has is time management. Project managers will deal with a handful of projects at a time. This requires them to create a working schedule that will help their team quickly but accurately finish the task. 

However, sometimes project managers will need to be flexible and make changes to the schedule. This includes additional work on the project or if revisions need to be made. 

Encourage Team Members for the Project

Project managers must encourage their team members during the project while being open with them about possible weaknesses. This way, they can motivate their workers while also ensuring they work to the best of their ability to complete the job. 

As a project manager, you’ll also need to make some tough decisions with team members. If you notice that even with guidance, certain members aren’t cooperating or seem to have grievances with another, you’ll need to address the problem. 

If they still don’t get the warning, you’ll have to choose whether or not they stay on the project. 

Understand Complex Technical Problems

Project managers oversee intricate tasks. If they cannot help a team member or explain something, the project probably won’t run very well. Because of this, it’s important that as a project manager, you are well-versed in numerous IT problems. Some of these include:

  • Hardware installations
  • Network upgrades
  • Software development
  • Business analytics
  • Information security 

These skills will allow the project manager to address problems and try to fix them before they need to contact the functional manager. 

Perform System Audits

Project managers need to do system audits periodically. The audits help identify the different system elements to confirm they’re working in harmony.

Project managers need to verify that the technology they use in a project passes an audit. 

Have the Ability to Travel

You’ll need to be prepared to travel to different locations as a project manager, especially if you need to check equipment or meet with clients.

IT project managers need to ensure that they have a flexible schedule and can quickly hop on a plane to visit various locations if necessary. 

Under What Conditions Can a Functional Manager Act as a Project Manager?

While a functional manager and a project manager have different roles, they share some common responsibilities. Because a functional manager is above a project manager, they can easily fill the role if need be. 

Despite this, a functional manager needs to prepare themselves to be more one-on-one with a team rather than just oversee a group. They must communicate with each individual. Functional managers need to practice good time management and learn to adapt to tasks. 

Overall, if a functional manager has impressive communication and organizational skills, they can easily serve as a project manager. 

What Is a Technical Project Manager?

A technical project manager does everything a regular IT project manager does but has a few more responsibilities. 

A technical project manager is required to be familiar with engineering terms and problems. They will also need to quickly assist with technical risks, including sudden cyberattacks or service outages. 

What Is a Functional Project Manager?

A functional project manager is someone whose role combines the responsibilities of both a project and a functional manager. If you’re a functional project manager, you must ensure that you have enough resources for the project while also overseeing team members. 

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