For any project leader, the management of different roles and responsibilities is a difficult thing to juggle — it’s hard enough to keep track of your own work, let alone everyone else’s. But a well-organized and efficient project management structure can make all the difference in the world when it comes to successfully completing a project on time and within budget.
There is no one “right” way to structure your project management, as the most effective approach will vary depending on the specific project and organization. However, there are five common structures that can be used as a starting point for creating your own customized system:
- Organic organization
- Functional organization
- Divisional organization
- Matrix organization
- Boundaryless organization
Each of these structures has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to choose the one that will work best for your specific project and team. In some cases, you may even need to use a combination of two or more structures to create the most efficient system possible.
Let’s walk through each of the five project management structures in more detail, so you can better understand which one might be right for your next project. Ready?
Project management structures: where to begin
Before going through the five common project management structures, it’s important to note that there are certain principles everyone should bear in mind when creating a project management structure.
The following two points are key:
First, projects need structure, but that doesn’t mean they need to be regimented and inflexible. Every project poses a unique set of challenges and therefore requires a tailored structure to be most effective.
And second, there is no “best” project management structure, as the most successful one will vary depending on the specific project and organization. In order to identify the best structure for your project, you must first assess the specific needs of your team and project. You can do this by asking yourself the following questions:
- What are the specific goals of the project?
- What is the project’s timeline?
- Who is involved in the project and what are their roles?
- Are there any specific constraints or limitations that need to be taken into account?
Once you have a good understanding of the answers to these questions, you can start to look at the five common project management structures and see which one would be the best fit for your team.
1. The organic organization
Also known as an open, simple, or organismic structure, this type of organization is the most common and natural form found in human societies.
In an organic organization, authority and responsibility are distributed throughout the group, and there are few rules or procedures. This type of structure is effective for small groups where everyone knows each other and communication is easy.
The downside to this structure — relevant especially to the workplace — is that it can be difficult to make decisions and get things done efficiently, due to the lack of hierarchy. Inappropriate behavior can also go unchecked, as there are no clear lines of authority.
This structure is best suited to teams that are relatively small and have a lot of face-to-face interaction. You’ll work well with this structure if your team is:
- Highly creative and able to come up with solutions on their own
- Good at communicating and have a strong team spirit
- Able to tolerate chaos and uncertainty
In other words, this structure is perhaps best reserved for well-established, tight-knit groups who work well together and don’t need a lot of oversight or structure to get things done.
2. Functional organization
Some project management structures lean more toward hierarchy, while others are flatter and rely more on matrix management.
The functional organization is one that falls into the latter category. In this type of project management structure, team members are grouped by their area of expertise rather than their rank in the company. This allows for a more streamlined flow of communication and cooperation between team members.
The functional organization is often seen as the most efficient type of project management structure. By grouping team members by their area of expertise, it becomes easier for them to communicate and cooperate with one another. This type of structure also allows team members to specialize in their areas of expertise, which can lead to a more efficient and productive team.
One downside of the functional organization is that it can be difficult to move team members between projects. This can lead to a lack of flexibility and slow response time when new projects are started. Additionally, this type of structure can be less effective when team members are not located in the same area.
You’ll know that your team is best suited to this structure if they:
- Are highly specialized in their areas of expertise, but can also work collaboratively when needed
- Have a strong flow of communication and are able to cooperate easily
- Are located in the same area or can easily communicate with each other
3. Divisional organization
Much like the functional structure, the divisional structure divides the company into different divisions. The main difference is that each division focuses on a specific product or service. This allows for more specialization and can help with improving efficiency, as teams can be dedicated to one product or service line rather than spread out over multiple products.
This structure is often used by companies that have a wide range of products and services, because it allows for more focus and specialization. It can also be helpful for companies that are growing rapidly, as it allows new products or services to be added without disrupting the rest of the company.
However, this structure can also lead to duplication of work and inefficiencies if not managed properly.
If your company meets the following criteria, you may want to consider using the divisional structure:
- You have a wide range of products or services
- You are growing rapidly
- You want more focus and specialization
- You want to add new products or services without disrupting the company
4. Matrix organization
In project management, the matrix structure is a type of organizational structure in which individuals have dual reporting relationships with their employer. As the name suggests, this type of organization has a matrix-like quality, with employees having multiple bosses and multiple teams.
The matrix structure is often used when projects are complex and involve many different divisions or parts. It can also be used when the company has a lot of technical expertise that is spread out across different departments.
Remember, however, that a matrix structure can also be very confusing and complicated for employees. They may feel like they are constantly caught in the middle of different bosses, teams, and projects. In addition, communication can be difficult in a matrix structure since employees may need to speak with multiple people to get their questions answered.
Despite these potential challenges, the matrix structure can be a very effective way to manage complex projects. By giving employees multiple reporting relationships, you can create a more efficient system in which different parts of the project are being overseen by the people who are most knowledgeable about them.
5. Boundaryless organization
And now, for one of the most contemporary project management structures: the boundaryless organization. This type of structure is perfect for companies with a flat hierarchy and employees who are comfortable working autonomously. There are no boundaries between teams, which encourages creativity and collaboration.
The boundaryless organization can be challenging to manage, as there is a lot of overlap between teams and no one is in charge of ensuring that all the pieces fit together. However, if you can successfully create a cohesive team culture, this type of organization can be extremely efficient.
Boundaryless structures are best suited to:
- Companies with a flat hierarchy who want to encourage creativity and collaboration
- Projects that require input from multiple departments without a clear leader
- Companies with employees who are comfortable working autonomously
Final thoughts: choosing your structure
Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of project management structure — but by understanding the different structures and how they work, you can choose the one that will work best for your individual projects and team.
When deciding on your project management structure, remember to keep the following in mind.
The project’s size and complexity: A smaller, simpler project may not need the same level of structure as a larger, more complex one.
The team’s experience and skills: A team with lots of experience in a particular field may be able to manage projects without a lot of formal structure. On the other hand, a team with limited experience may need more formal structure to ensure that the project is completed successfully.
The company’s culture: A company with a rigid, top-down structure may prefer a more formal project management structure, while a company with a more flat structure may be more comfortable with less formal structures.
The project’s deadlines: If a project has tight deadlines, it may need a more formal structure with specific timelines and milestones in order to stay on track.
The project’s budget: If the project has a limited budget, the team may need to be more careful with how they allocate their resources. This could mean using a more formal structure with specific budget restrictions.
The project’s stakeholders: The people and groups who are affected by or have a stake in the project should be considered when choosing a project management structure. For example, if the stakeholders include upper management, then a more formal structure may be necessary to ensure that they’re kept up to date on the project’s progress.
With these factors in mind, you can create a structure that will enable your team to work efficiently and effectively — and deliver on deadline, every time.