I’ve been working with some project managers at the McGill Advanced Institute, and was involved in a conversation regarding matrix organizations.The definition of a matrix organization is to structure the lines of authority in one aspect by resource grouping or department and in another aspect by project or objective.
We typically charge resource managers with the responsibility of managing the personnel. They must ensure their department is fully engaged on productive work, and that staff is satisfied. On the other side of the house we typically charge the project manager with producing results. They must draw upon the skills available in the resource groups to do the project.
The matrix is often identified as a grid with a hierarchical tree going up and down — like an organigram — and a second hierarchical tree going from left to right intersecting the first tree with project responsibility. The conflict between the interests of the project managers and the resource managers is by design. In a perfect world, the natural conflict would be managed by a perfect balance between the two groups.
The challenge I faced recently comes from two organizational phenomena that are rarely discussed. First, what happens when a person holds both roles, as is often common in high-tech? You have a resource manager who has a heavy incentive to favour one project (his or her own) over the others. How do you manage this conflict?
Secondly, the chain of authority from the resource manager up through the structure of the organization is often clear. The team lead reports to the supervisor who reports to the department head who reports to the head of the division who reports to the VP, and so on. The same is not true for almost any organization when we talk about the project managers. What is their chain of authority?
If I draw an organigram of an organization, the project management office will almost always reside as a dotted line next to one of the senior executives. It is entirely possible that the project manager will hold no direct authority over another human being at all. They are responsible, held accountable, but hold no authority. This is the project manager’s most common lament.
In most organizations you also have to deal with the impact of different personalities. Some people are simply better at getting their way, or are more experienced or more skilled. This can pull the matrix one way or the other.
A movement that is taking on more and more significance in the project management industry has had a direct impact on this area of the business. The introduction in some organizations of a chief project officer brings the strength of the project manager into the executive boardroom for the first time. Now, the CPO can represent the potentially powerful project information from a project management office (PMO) at the highest level of the organization.

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