Matrix Management

Project Management in a matrix – is there a dark side?

I seem to have met a lot of project managers this year and in recent weeks I have spoken at a couple of events for project managers working in matrix organization structures. It seems project management is on the rise. Is it a good thing in a matrix organization, or is there also a dark side?

It is clear that project management is an important element of operating a matrix. The additional focus and emphasis these roles give to major projects being run across the organization can be invaluable in making things happen. There are also many activities that lend themselves to being managed as discrete projects.

A great advantage of project management in the matrix is that managers can (usually) focus just on delivering a specific piece of activity and not get sucked into all the day to day complexity of the matrix.

But it also seems to me that project management is being used as a prop to support weak “lateral” management in the matrix structure. When they are unable to get things done they appoint a project manager to push work that should be delivered in the course of their normal management jobs.

Symptoms I have seen include

  • very large numbers of project managers being appointed (up to the hundreds in one case)
  • project managers bringing additional “governance” to activities – more meetings, reporting, control etc.. (which as we have seen can make activities slower, less satisfying and more expensive)
  • project managers ignoring people development and other longer term issues in their focus on short term deliverables (which to be fair is their job – but the power of projects can tip the balance away from longer term development)
  • normal management activities being re-badged as “projects” because the managers nominally responsible are weak or have not achieved their objectives.

Have you seen these symptoms in your organization? Do you think project management is under or over used?

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