For those of us who have worked most of our careers in companies with functional or matrix power structures, projectized organizations can appear very attractive in comparison.
This is understandable given the many challenges project managers can face when their roles are poorly defined or when they have no little authority over team members or decision making. I can recall countless cases of project managers escalating concerns over individual team member behavior to people managers only to be told that perhaps the project managers themselves are the problem.
Support for project managers can also be limited.
If they are lucky, they might report into a PMO which provides professional development opportunities and they can benefit from the support of their peers but unless the company is at a higher level of organizational project management maturity, the role of the project manager might still be a thankless one at times.
In a projectized company, the role of the project manager is well defined, they usually possess formal authority (including hiring and firing power) over their team members, and they are likely to have greater decision making authority than in matrix or functional organizations.
Seems like Nirvana, right? Unfortunately, formal authority is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Just because you have the ability to directly impact someone’s performance evaluation, annual bonus or even their job, doesn’t mean that will automatically motivate them to give you their best efforts. Possessing formal authority over team members can be a curse – you have to work twice as hard to capture the hearts and minds of your team members through vision, influence and persuasion as it is all too easy to fall into the habit of saying “It’s my way or the highway!”. In functional or matrix organizations, that approach isn’t even possible, but in projectized organizations, team members will listen because they fear the consequences of not doing so, but you will get their support at the cost of true engagement and commitment.
In projectized organizations, the project manager can also bear the brunt of negative project outcomes. They possess the authority, but with that comes the risk that if the project fails or the customer is unhappy, they are more likely to be impacted than in a functional or matrix organization where decision making authority and accountability is diffused.
Finally, what happens when your project ends and there is no more work? Project managers in functional or matrix organizations might lose their jobs if they are unable to find a lateral role. In a projectized organization, lack of new projects could mean that not only the project manager, but their team members could also be negatively impacted, and the project managers will have to bear the resulting emotional stress.
Can projectized organizations be better than functional or matrix ones? They can, but caveat emptor.