Succeeding in a Weak Matrix Organization

Here are some hints on managing the move from one Project to another in a different organization. It is my take away from an excellent workshop on Project Management Leadership facilitated by Don O'Hara that I took this past week with colleagues from HP. 


Moving from one Project to another is a challenge that we should not underestimate. Thinking about what is going on, can help us fine tune ourselves and perform better in the  environment and organization that we are joining. 

My last change of Project brought me several adjustments. I share with you this week what was going on, the impacting it had on me, and what I did some research and asked for feedback from fellow Project Managers as part of a workshop on Project Management Leadership I took this past week. 

Organizational Structures 

One of the tools available to assess the context of a Project is the classification of Organizational Structures. It is a simple taxonomy which describes how a Project is coupled into the functional structure of an organization. 

This business decision will have a deep impact on key elements of the Project and the assigned Project Manager, like the readiness and availability of resources, the degree of commitment of team members, and the role that Project Manager is expected to play, as well as its degree of formal autonomy and authority . 

As y ou can see in the figure below, there are three types of organizational structures: Functional, Matrix , and Projectized. The Matrix Organization is further breakdown into three different sub-types: Weak Matrix , Balanced Matrix , and Strong Matrix . 

Let's check them out briefly . 

Functional: in this environment, the projects are approached from the very same functions in the organization, team members are most likely to tackle the Project without leaving their normal departmental duties. Nothing happens without the approval and agreement of the functional managers, which change the goals and decisions on the project as they see fit. Here the role of the Project Manager is reduced to that of an administrative facilitator. 

Weak Matrix: this type of organization is subject to the influence of the functional organization as I described above. The role of the functional manager still has a strong influence but the Project Manager has some more space to action than in the pure functional Organization. He or she serves as a coordinator for the Project. 

Balanced Matrix: in this type of organization the Project Manager and the Functional Manager share more or less the same level of authority . It is in this type of organization where the role of the Project Manage begins to be more of what we find in the text books on Project Management. 

Strong Matrix: an organization where a great deal of authority and independence is given to the Project Manager, often above of that of the Functional Manager. Decisions are taken around the success of the Project whereas operational priorities need to find room to accommodate. It is typical on critical Projects with a high strategic impact or with heavy restrictions involving important costs.

Projectized: here there is no concept of management functions, the organization is built  entirely around the Projects undertaken. From another perspective, the same Project Manager occupy the functions of management; so there is no need to interact with any functional manager. Whenever a Project is completed, the team members are disbanded and must be absorbed by other Projects. 

Challenges of Weak Matrix Organizations 

Weak Matrix Organizations can be a challenge for the Project Manager given the strong influence of the Operational structure and the Functional Managers. Specially if the Project Manager comes from a Balanced Matrix Organization or a Strong Matrix Organization. As it was the case for me during my last transition at the beginning of this year. 

The figure below summarizes the challenges I was facing and how I was reacting to them. Can you identify yourself with any of them? 

Thriving in a Weak Matrix Organization

As we started our workshop at the beginning of the week, I raised my interest on getting some feedback about what I could to cope better with my circumstances. Other colleagues expressed their need to touch other specific subjects. Our trainer asked us to put together a couple of slides to present our situation and drive discussion, which led me to prepare the slides I am sharing with you right now. 

The slide below summarizes what I discovered once I investigated on the subject and discussed it with my peers and our facilitator during our workshop. It was an eyeopening experience for me, allowing me to relate a piece of the theory on Project Management which was pretty familiar to me, with my day to day. It provided me with perspective and sound advice to put into practice. 

I hope it comes useful whenever you face a similar change.

Until next week!
  -Sergio Calvo

Note: I used the following sources to put together my presentation:

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