Saturday, March 17, 2007

Roles and responsibilities in a weak matrix organization

I recently ran into a problem on a large (100+ people) multi-team project, in which one team was structured as strong matrix, while the remaining teams were structured as weak matrix.

Although the project was a success by many measures, incorrect expectations about roles and responsibilities led to significant misunderstandings and resulted in a large number of management escalations. While the strong matrix structure provided local optimization for the one team, it introduced complexity and extra cost for the project and the IT organization as a whole.

The misunderstanding was around the issue of who, specifically, should drive resources to complete their tasks. The feeling of this one team was that it should be the PM. But in a weak matrix organization Resource Managers (RM's) must be the ones to drive their people to complete the project, not PM's. Here's why:

  1. A weak matrix organization is structured around functional teams, not projects.
  2. Resources are assigned by RM's; the PM does not interview candidates or select resources during project initiation.
  3. Resources are allocated to projects part-time, and the PM has no view into their other responsibilities, and does not set their priorities.
  4. RM's, not PM's deliver the project WBS and estimates for their areas.
  5. The PM does not influence performance reviews. Resources are loyal to their direct line manager, who is the RM, not the PM.
  6. Functional teams may have their own internal processes over which the PM has no influence.
  7. RM's, not PM's, usually approve timesheets, meaning RM's ultimately control the project budget.
  8. It is not physically possible for a PM to manage all tasks for all resources on all teams, especially in large and complex projects. Having over 100 people, this project qualified as "large and complex".
  9. PM's would be forced to communicate with multiple contacts about the same piece of work (both resources and RM's). It would be cleaner for everyone if there was a single point of contact for resources (the RM).
  10. The PM is essentially powerless to handle resource issues:
    • When a resource is ill or leaves the company, it is RM's who accept responsibility and handle the replacement.
    • In the case of poor performance, the only recourse available to the PM is escalation to the RM. Use of escalation should not be a standard business procedure, and in the end, the RM still accepts responsibility for handling the resource.

Having made the case that RM's should be the primary project drivers in a weak matrix, can we say what the different management roles and responsibilities are in a weak matrix? We can, although this is high level, and you should complete a RACI or RAM or whatever your organization uses to define and communicate the details to your teams.

PM Lead:

  • Manage release plan cycles
  • Leads a weekly meeting between business process owners + applications teams + PM's
  • This meeting is for inter-customer load balancing and resource leveling (this is like a program committee to prioritize across projects)
  • Tabulates and publishes results


  • Note that the seniority depends on project complexity including number of resource groups
  • Watch timelines and deliverables, budget
  • Chair project meetings
  • Facilitate, coordinate, monitor and report


  • Deliver work to estimates (commitment to deliverables)
  • Contingency and mitigation belong to app resource managers.
  • Resource managers "own" projects!

Resource Leads:
  • Make technical decisions
  • Guide resources in their day-to-day work


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