Role, Function, and Purpose. Not the same things.

June 28, 2011

Tools Project ManagementYou may feel like you’re headed back to English class, but let’s take a minute and discuss the semantics behind Role, Function, and Purpose as words themselves. They are individual words within the English language that often get used interchangeably when in fact, each word has not only it’s own meaning, but it’s own usage that is essential to our understanding of Project Management.

Since many of us have actually taken English classes, and even own a dictionary, but still have trouble separating the definition of these three words, let’s try a different approach for discussing the meaning of each word.

Role: Like the word “tool”, a role defines where a person or entity will fit into the scope of things. Unlike the carpenter, which is the head, the “tool” will be working under the carpenter, but ahead of the nails. Defining the roles of your team members helps keep everyone organized, knowing who will be responsible for what tasks.

Function: The function of a tool, is the tasks that a particular role is assigned to accomplish. A hammer is a tool. To describe the function of a hammer, though, you would say that a hammer drives nails, removes nails, generally hits other lesser tools really, really hard. Another way to describe function is to think about when you read job descriptions–someone may be the Project Manager, but that’s just their role. What will their function at the company actually be? Well to answer that question, we list off the tasks that the PM will be doing. These tasks form the function of a particular role.

Finally we come to Purpose. Purpose is very simply, the “why” behind our function. What is the ultimate goal of our efforts? To what end are we giving of our time and energy? These answers define our purpose.


We you are leading a team, remember that defining these three things–separately–for your team members will be essential to a well oiled working machine, no matter what kind of tools you have to work with.



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