18 May 2016

Matrix organisations – Become Neo to succeed as a Project Manager




1. isolate (one system, process, department, etc.) from others.

“most companies have expensive IT systems they have developed over the years, but they are siloed

Silo is often used to describe large organisations structured around functional areas. The analogy is particularly apt given the strong (tower-like) vertical structures in place and variously tenuous or missing horizontal connections. Typically functional managers direct these silos and these fiefdoms can be impregnable or penetrated. In this kind of structure any project that crosses the boundaries of the functional silos has to breach these intangible but powerful barriers.

Picturing a project manager in a weak matrix structure, what comes to mind is a glorified administrator who reports on projects but has little influence over them. We’ll call this project manager Anderson. More administration than management and little or no action put the chances of success very low.

Some reasons for this prognosis:

  • People contributing to the project change their commitment in terms of capacity or schedule or more usually are directed to change their commitment, leaving Anderson to continuously readjust the project around their flip-flopping. 
  • Stakeholders impose unexpected changes while the schedule and budget remain unmoveable. Anderson can only say yes, and update the project plan in order to accommodate the change, however unrealistic. 
  • People don’t engage or don’t seem compelled to engage. Typical passive-aggressive behaviour includes not answering emails, not returning phone calls or even not attending meetings, leaving Anderson wasting his time chasing them. 
  • People elude responsibility or avoid work but Anderson must keep them on the team. 
  • Despite all of the above Anderson is accountable for the project’s results.

In a weak matrix organisation these situations are not uncommon and if Anderson escalates such an issue to management, the latter will usually protect his people and disregard Anderson’s request because let’s face it: in a weak matrix organisation Anderson has no power.

NeoThankfully all is not lost.

Anderson worked as a hacker. He took the name Neo, after he was freed from the Matrix.

There are ways to overcome the project management challenges in a weak matrix structure.

Build good relationships with functional managers

How? How can Neo collaborate with the functional manager to keep control over the project and make it successful?

Agreeing on who does what between Neo and the functional manager is critical to avoid conflicts that may arise from overlapping responsibilities. Neo should focus on high-level activities and deliverables and monitor progress. The functional manager, on the other hand, is responsible for translating these high-level objectives into actions that will be performed by his/her teams.

When dealing with multiple functional managers providing information at various times and in diverse formats, assessing project status and keeping a realistic plan up-to-date is an incredibly challenging task. Setting up flows of information early on will make the project manager’s job considerably easier.  Avoid bringing cumbersome project management artifacts to the table. Instead, use simple communication materials that provide the right level of detail for functional managers.

Neo should take the lead to establish these rules. It helps keeping control over the project as well as demonstrating his added value. The functional manager will appreciate that Neo takes the initiative to organise collaboration as long as it’s not done in a directive fashion.

Power by influence

Neo has limited authority. Instead he leads by negotiation. He does not direct but coordinates.

Power by authority is overrated. Real, lasting power comes from influence, which in turn leads to trust. Trust depends on (1) respecting the stakeholders’ roles and interests (2) understanding the functional and technical aspects enough to coordinate activities (3) genuine interest in the project’s and the organisation’s success.

Reporting is a great influencing tool. By choosing which (objective) information to show, when, and to whom, Neo can exert powerful influence.

Understand the matrix

Neo has to develop deep organisational knowledge to identify and digest relevant information. This is called situational awareness. In a weak matrix organisation where dilution of roles and responsibilities exist, over-communication is a necessary evil. Neo is at its centre.

On the flip side it places Neo in an ideal position to represent not only the interests of the project but also of the organisation.

In conclusion, although Anderson has little formal authority in a weak matrix structure, Neo has considerable power in the form of influence. Neo develops unique strengths over time. First, he has broader organisational knowledge than any stakeholder taken individually. Second, he has corporate-level credibility because he is apolitical and not aligned to any specific department. Third he is the only one mandated to report at project-level.

23 March 2016

Influencing the Influencers

Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy meets with advisors in his office at the Department of Justice. Photo credit: Department of Justice Archives

Robert Kennedy’s influence in the administration extended well beyond law enforcement. Though different in temperament and outlook, the President came to rely heavily on his brother’s judgement and effectiveness as political advisor, foreign affairs counsellor, and most trusted confidant.

The Influencer is a strange bird. It wields power often in a hidden, Machiavellian way, often serving its own self-interest.

To begin, let’s define influence as “the power to affect, control or manipulate something or someone; the ability to change the development of fluctuating things such as conduct, thoughts or decisions; an action exerted by a person or thing with such power on another to cause change; a person or thing exerting such power or action.” The key point in all of this is power! Infleuncers might not be able to direct people to do something – but they exert a different type of power which is equally, if not more, important. Projects are much more likely to succeed when backed by clear, active support from other influental people in the organisation. Simple? We need to identify the influencers, right? Yes, we do need to identify them but first we need to categorise them.

There are four types of Influencer birds in an organisation:

  • Advocate: can persuade others about the benefits of a project. It’s important to work with them early in the process. You need to plant ideas with them and turn them into early adopters.
  • Connector: help you reach others in the network that you might want to influence. They help you find allies and enlist support. They can also help you develop a critical mass of key people in favour of the project.
  • Controller: control access to people and information. They need cultivating and they need to understand how they can help you.
  • Expert: recognised as being technically credible by others. Remember they may not actually be technical experts; it’s just that others regard them as so.

Next you need to identify and understand the role that each of the influencers plays. For this I’d recommend Michael Lennon and Eva Schiffer (Discovering hidden influencers that make or break project success) business “paper-and-pencil” drawing tool. It is a simple and smart “Net-Map” which helps people to interactively identify influence networks and depict the information in an intuitive and quantitative manner.

Put simply, you have to pay more attention to some people than others. When you stop and think about it, you already know that some people in an organisation have more influence than others. You know this instinctively and need to bring this knowledge into the project to initiate effective leadership.
There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” Niccolo Machiavelli

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” Niccolo Machiavelli

Influencers have the power to help or harm you. In order to responsibly manage your influencers, take time to identify and evaluate them. Know that influencers get things done. They effect change. They make things happen. You need to know you can leverage them for maximum impact. Lead influencers to your expected outcomes. Influence the Influencers! Know them. Understand them.

“The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.”  Niccolo Machiavelli

A-Z of Project Management

Sign up to receive the A-Z of Project Management direct to your inbox