5 different organization structures for projects

Different organization structures are available and used by different projects. Each structure has its own advantages and disadvantages. In this post, I will discuss several options. Next time that you start a project review them and see if you can try a structure you never tried before. The only way to improve is by using new ideas.

Hierarchy

This is the most common structure. One project/lead manage the project. This person has several people reporting to him. Each one of his direct reports is responsible for an area and has people reporting to him, and so on. The reporting lines create groups that are dedicated to a certain task or topic. Reporting lines are also used to resolve conflicts and make decisions.

The benefit of the hierarchy is fast decision making (depending on the leader). The main disadvantage is that decisions by one person rarely get true support from all the people that need to do the work. This structure also creates silos that the reporting line needs to fix with collaboration. This structure is based on the assumption that people will follow an autocratic leader. This assumption is not meeting today’s world reality. The leader is sure that everyone follows him, but the reality is different.

Matrix

The classical matrix structure has two chains of controls. One is project management, and the other is functional management, so each person is reporting to two different people. This structure provides better communication because people are taking part in different projects. Matrix structure enables better efficiency by enabling people to be part of several projects in parallel instead of being dedicated to one group.

The disadvantage of the classical matrix is the confusion and frustration that reporting to two people with two goals creates. This structure also makes an organization much more complex.

The Agile matrix.

The agile matrix is based on a classical matrix with two variations. First, people will be part of three types of groups Chapter (functional), Squad (project) and a Guild (a group of people focuses on resolving a problem or promoting idea). Second, none of those groups need to have a manager/leader. In reality, most of them have.

The same advantage and disadvantage of the classical matrix apply to this structure as well. The difference is that advantages and disadvantages are more extreme.

Independent, autonomous teams

This is an uncommon structure in organizations, but the most common structure in nature. There is no hierarchical nature here (in terms of authority and control) and there are no matrixes. This structure consists of independent groups that have all the skill sets that they need to reach the group purpose. Those groups can also have an independent budget. People can be part of multiple groups. There are three main variations in this structure.

Teams that have a lead in the middle and members connected to the lead. Teams that have just a network of members (rare), and teams that have a nucleus of several leaders and several members (atoms) around them. Teams are connected to other teams by members that are cross teams and by a common purpose. In this structure, you might see a group with a purpose to coordinate the effort of other groups.

The advantage of this structure is that the project is not losing agility and fast delivery. The structure is very agile and provides teams to move quickly and in parallel. This structure also gives people more control and, as a result, they feel more connected.

The disadvantages are 1) harder to synchronize team. 2) less efficient 3) without clear definitions of who is accountable for what, there are more conflicts.

Hierarchy of groups.

This structure is based on a hierarchy of authority and control, but instead of people, it is between groups. This structure is a combination of the independent groups and hierarchy. The most known system that uses this structure is Holacracy. While within the group the structure is restricting a manager/leader authority and eliminating control, this is not the case with groups and their subgroups.

I’m pretty negatively biased about this option based on experience. The advantage is also increasing the engagement of people and better communication if people are part of multiple groups. This structure is not natural. It’s a half hierarchy and half independent groups. Very hard for people to understand and follow, but there are quite a few organizations that are using versions of this structure.

Flat

The concept of a flat organization can be implemented in projects as well. I saw more than once very successful projects that were structured that way. The flattest structure will be one leader and all the project members reporting to him. But, there are different variations to this structure. In some levels of a flat structure, it will be hard to determine if it’s a flat structure or hierarchy.

The flat structure has more or less the same advantage and disadvantage of hierarchical organizations. Taking the hierarchy out of the picture helps for faster decision making and resolution of conflicts, on the other hand, creates a bottleneck and one single point of failure.

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