Weak Matrix Syndrome

| Posted in Project Management | | 2,616 views


Weak Matrix SyndromeA quote can summarize a whole life experience and can convey a great deal of knowledge and wisdom to the world. In my pursuit of developing project management quotes, I always try to compose new ones that represent general and project management, this is the first of a series I am going to start on this blog where I will include a quote of mine and explain the reason behind it, just like Why Projects Fail series, I hope you will enjoy this series of unique quotes!

What would a project manager have done wrong in his life to work in a weak matrix organization?!
Kareem Shaker

Basically there are three types of organizations:

  • Functional Organization: sometimes it is called operational organization, where departments are categorized by function and a line/functional manager is on top of each department
  • Matrix Organization: resources are pulled from different functional departments to work on the project, this type of organization varies according to the power the project manager has it can be weak, balanced, or strong matrix, obviously strong is the best for the project manager
  • Projectized (Project Based): unlike matrix organization, the projectized type grants the project manager the highest level of power

A project manager working in a weak matrix environment would look like the above clown, he is trying to make every stakeholder happy, and he ends up in a miserable circumstance. It is not surprising to see a project manager in an organization without trying to know the type of the organization whether functional, matrix, or projectized. If you work in a functional organization and your designation is a project manager, it likely that you are managing a process or operational work rather than a project, or you may be a contractor project manager who has been contracted to manage a project using functional resources, this would even be worse than working in a weak matrix, the level of power the project manager has decides the type of matrix he is working in, obviously the project manager has the least power in the weak matrix.

Weak Matrix Syndrome

A project manager who works in a weak matrix organization is like a clown who tries to make each and every stakeholder happy while he ends up in a miserable circumstance!

Working in a weak matrix environment is very exhausting and requires too much patience, the project manager will suffer a lot to gain resources, and even to get attention of the functional managers, sponsor may be too much busy with executive duties, travelling in business deals, or playing solitaire! resources will be busy with operational work and they will always put the functional duties as the first priority, loyalty is always for the line manager, because simply resources know that the project manager has neither power nor authority, and they will be evaluated against their functional work rather than the project delivery, and in fact the line manager can always claim that the resources are busy with operational work that has to be addressed on high priority basis, come on it is operational work dude, this will absolutely delay the project and eventually the project manager will take all the blame! this is really annoying however it is important that the project manager has enough insight to realize the type of environment he is working on otherwise he will always go through an endless loop of complain, frustration, and possibly escalation, the project manager has to know how to deal with different people with different interests, and ideally has to have the ability to get things done through people, that is all what management about, by establishing good relationships with different departments and always motivate the project team, each team member has to be motivated based on his personality, YES as a project manager you need to understand each team member’s personality and even each stakeholder’s, also you will have to try to get along with functional managers, just not to surprise you, you may be a great project manager and you may be employing all the previous techniques, yet you will face too much roadblocks, and you will need to be very persistent and patient and also have the ability to chill out, otherwise you will always end up in awkward situations, that will ultimately jeopardize your project, I hope the reason behind my quote is clear now! would love to hear from your feedback, and your experience of working in weak matrix organization! You can also contribute in the below simple poll, and this would give readers a great indicator about the percentage of weak matrix organizations, please do that, it is a single click!

What is your organization’s type?

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Comments (5)

Good and nice idea, the idea sticks with such quotes, however I suggest to make it shorter.
well done man, I really enjoy your blog.

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I guess you are addressing PMs whom don’t have efficient education or at least by reading and experience, but, some people take PM by hand and they think that it’s a piece of cake :), and I know something else, if you don’t know “What would a project manager have done wrong in his life to work in a weak matrix organization?!”

simply, he is one of what I have mentioned, not a real PM.

PS: I want to justify something, this is my point of view about most of PMs that I have met till now.

Finally, Please, keep the good work up.


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Hi Kareem –

I hate the term matrix. Before becoming a project manager, I worked in a matrix management situation and have nothing good to say about it. Matrix is a hiss and a byword in my world!

Now to be a bit more constructive. 🙂 I take exception to PMI’s use of Weak or Strong matrix. As a PM professional organization, I suppose it makes sense to judge weak or strong from a PM perspective. But I believe it’s more meaningful to judge weak or strong against the business’ needs and its model. I don’t think what PMI calls a strong matrix would be appropriate for all businesses, and if it were imposed in those environments, it would be anything but a strength.

I work in an environment where usually, the functional manager is either the PM or the PM works for that functional manager. Now, we could get into a whole other thing about the “working PM” who has other duties, but in general, this approach has helped us to keep the interests of the business, functional manager, and the PM aligned. It has a slew of other weaknesses that we could explore, of course.

It just always struck me as a little arrogant to judge weakness or strength only from a single discipline’s perspective.

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Hi Max,

Yes it is not fair to judge an organization from only one angle, in this case project management, but in fact it’s not PMI who coined the term, it is globally known as you know, at the end of the day we all seek what works, away from the methodologies wars 🙂

I do believe that the organizational structure is very important for the project manager to survive and get the project delivered, the problem is that many project managers do not try to identify the organization structure they work in before whining about not getting cooperation and resource commitments!

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It’s an entertaining article.

I agreed that a PM (in a weak matrix org) need to be (very) persistent, patient, and be friendly to functional head.

But attitude alone may only keep you survive (for a while). It can’t change the situation.

I am in one of this weak matrix org. I am kind of looking way to change the org from weak matrix to (at least) balance matrix. That’s an organization change project.

Hate to say a PM in a weak matrix org has no power at all. So I am still looking way to make the change.

If anyone get some sharing, love to hear so.


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