PM vs Matrix Organization

I have worked in a true Project Organization, a Strong Matrix and a Weak Matrix.  From a corporate perspective, there are pros and cons to each and the company must select the format that works best for them.  However, from a Program Management perspective, the role changes significantly and what makes you successful in one structure can be a fatal flaw in another.  The following table highlights some of the key differences that I have experienced, there are others but these have had the most impact for my team and me.

  Weak (Functional) Matrix Balanced Matrix Strong (Project) Matrix
Authority Minimal:   The PM primarily manages through influence.  In this case the proverbial buck stops with the functional manager. Low:  The authority is typically shared with the functional manager. High:  The PM can manage through authority but more likely uses a combination of expertise, influence, and authority.  In this case the proverbial buck stops with the PM.
Resource Control Minimal:  The PM may have feedback to annual reviews but does not control when and where a resource will work) Moderate:  Resource assignments may be negotiated between the PM and Functional Manager) High:  The resource is assigned to the program and the PM determines what, when and where they work.
Budget Control Functional Manager(s):  If the organization has multiple departments on a project the budget will be controlled by the functional managers for each department. Theoretically the PM and functional manager(s) share the responsibility but it really depends on how close you are to a Strong or Weak matrix. PM:  In the strong matrix the PM owns the budget (resources, capital, expense, etc).

When I worked in a Strong Matrix, I always did my negotiating up front and by the time I was past the program planning phase and had approval to proceed I new exactly what I had to work with in terms of resources, budget, schedule, risk, etc.  In this environment my teams were able to hit there deliverables on projects within +/- 10% on a regular basis. 

Working in a Weak Matrix has been significantly more challenging but can be potentially more rewarding when you succeed.  Some of the biggest issues I have experienced revolve around both resources and budget.  We still negotiate for resources during the program-planning phase but the reality is that functional managers (like college professors) think there product is the most important.  This is typically manifested by the reassignment of resources without prior notification or elimination of budget in the middle of the program.  As a result, my team and I have learned to adapt in real time (shuffling test systems, re-sequencing tasks, etc) to ensure we are doing the best we can for our teams with what we have.    

Summary: My personal preference as a Program Manager is the Strong Matrix because you are more in control of your own destiny than in either a Balanced or Weak matrix.  However, I would not trade the experience of a weak matrix because it has taught me to be both flexible and resilient by adapting on the fly much more so I did working in a strong matrix.  What is your company’s structure and are you adapting to meet the needs of your team within it?


Ed Gaeta




2 thoughts on “PM vs Matrix Organization”

  1. A well written article by Ed Gaeta. Congratulation.

    well, i go through this dilema on what kind of organziation set up works best. As i am in a week matrix organization and come from a Strong (Project) Matrix organiztion.

    I feel a Strong (Project) Matrix organization will be more successful and controlled, with pridictive growth, and resources being clear on their deliverables. Hence the organization grow in confidence, as they are always customer facing.

    Weak (Functional) Matrix focus on handling interanl issues and cost control, where by each functional manager would be working towards he own goal, and loose focus towards customer and deliverables, which leads to internal clashes and eventaully not benefit the organization.

  2. User Avatar

    Most of the work that gets done in product development organizations today is performed by cross-functional project teams. The traditional org chart is of little use except to clarify who to call when you’re going to be late for work! As functional organizations grow and mature they naturally evolve into product-centric, or product-line centered organizations. This builds the Strong Matrix structure into the fabric of the organization. Unfortunately functional managers lose out as more well-rounded customer-centric thinking starts to dominate. You can imagine how thrilled these functional managers are to lose their power to these “generalists” who focus on pesky things like customers, markets and competitors instead of technology and internal issues related to their functional area. In my opinion, project managers must ignore the functionally organized power structure and insist on having real power and influence, even in weak matrix organizations. Adapting to the vicissitudes of functional managers just decreases productivity and prolongs the agony of the organization. Business needs must drive business structure, not status and ego or ossified org charts. – Kimberly Wiefling, Author, Scrappy Project Management

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