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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

Are You in the Matrix?

"Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself." Morpheus

“Power is the ability to get things done.” Rosabeth Kanter

I am going to be discussing “leadership” as it pertains to projects, but the type of organization the Project Manager (PM) is operating in can significantly impact how they manage the day to day activities. The PM must adapt to their environment to be effective.

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®) mentions that there are four broad types of organizations that the PM may find themself operating in. The first is the “Functional” organization.

Functional organizations are organized around areas of expertise. The attorneys work with attorneys, engineers work with engineers, etc. This is how most large companies are organized and there are significant benefits to this structure. The biggest benefit is that it creates a high degree of specialization and expertise. The drawback is that you create stovepipes that make it difficult to deliver collaborative projects, and this structure tends to react slowly to a changing environment.

For a couple of posts on the implications of this structure on the executive leadership of projects, click here: www.projectmanagementforum.net.

At the other end of the spectrum we have a “Projectized” organization.

Projectized organizations, as the name implies, are organized around projects! The project manager has dedicated employees reporting directly to them and they have great authority over budget, resources and the specifics of how the project is run. These can be highly integrated teams. The benefit of this structure is that it is focused exclusively on the project work and can react quickly to a changing environment. The major drawback is that the technical skills of the team members may begin to erode. For example, a developer assigned to dealing with requirements traceability is no longer doing development work!

In the middle of these two organizations is the Matrix

The Matrix is where most PM’s find themselves. The organization has a project and they assign a PM. It is normally the PM’s responsibility to find resources within the functions. Here is an illustration out of the PMBOK:

PMBOK® Guide, page 22; figure 2-1

The Matrix creates a wide variety of practical issues for the PM. There are the politics of obtaining resources from organizations that are themselves understaffed and have their own priorities. There is the issue of recruiting the right talent. This is challenging because it is difficult for the PM to make any career enhancing promises as the assignment is, by definition, temporary. Once the team has been assembled there are a wide variety of issues that must be addressed! How much time can they devote, how long can they stay, and how will they be rewarded and evaluated are all considerations.

You need to recognize the situation you are in and use organizational theories to accelerate the process of transforming a group of strangers into a high performing team.

The matrix is a tough place to be. That is why you need a well-trained Project Manager!

For those of you who sleep with the PMBOK under your pillow, you will no doubt note that I left out the Composite organization. While it may look a little different on the organization chart, in practice it is indistinguishable from a strong matrix. While you may need to know the difference for the PMP exam, it is a distinction without a difference when discussing organizational theory.


I am in a LOT of meetings. I am not complaining! While it is mainly sitting quietly as someone else is talking, it counts as work and sometimes I get to say things. For the occasional in-person meetings, sometimes there are snacks! The best thing about meetings is that rare moment when someone uses a new phrase that you know will take hold! I can still remember the first time I heard “cadence” used as a proper noun. I was asked to attend the Cadence Meeting for a project. I couldn’t miss that one! I recall we talked about the reporting schedule, but I thought “cadence” sounded more elegant. I added it to my “go to” words list! You know the list. Those words you reach for when you are talking about something important to a group of people. I did vow to only use it as a verb though… Soon cadence began to spread! Other projects started using it, it was added as an agenda item for the Executive Steering Committee, and you began to hear people outside the project using it. It had taken hold. Welcome to the team, cadence!


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