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Functional or Matrix – Yea or Nay?

Updated: Aug 29, 2021

I’ve worked in a number of different companies with different organizational structures to support the delivery of projects. While all were unique, each one fell roughly into one of two categories – functional or matrix.

For those who maybe have heard the terms before but aren’t quite clear on what functional vs matrix is, let me tell you. Functional is your more ‘traditional’ way of having an organizational structure. Employees are grouped together according to functional discipline (ex. HR, development, services). Matrix-based organizations develop their structure according to more complex variables, often times surrounding project delivery which can lead to ‘functional’ groups that are built with different skillsets or disciplines in them to make a ‘mini’ organization capable of delivering a project. Here are some things to consider when making the decision on how to structure (or re-structure) your organization.

Project Consistency

The very nature and scope of your projects will determine how you decide to staff them. Are your projects delivered with the same methodology each time? (hint: if not, they should be). How common are the staffing requirements of your projects each time? What do the timelines look like for your projects across the board? If your projects are relatively consistent then you may want to look at designing some level of a matrix-style environment for your organization. If your projects are different all the time, especially when it comes to staffing needs, you may find that a more traditional functional style works better.

Skillset Depth

Depending on what your project demands are for skillsets will also help factor into your decision around functional vs matrix. Each project will require specific skillsets from your team for a successful delivery and depending how many (and availability) of your staff possess those skills will help decide how best you organizationally structure your teams. If there are only a handful of individuals who can do a particular job that may be required on every project, then matrix may not be the best approach since there would only be so many hours of that person/people available to meet the needs of many projects. If your projects demand a rather consistent set (and volume) of skills, then you may be able to look at deploying a matrix-style environment.

Functional vs matrix is something that every organization who delivers projects needs to consider. There is no right or wrong answer to this question – the right answer is what meets yours and your customers’ needs the best. Hopefully these tips will help you when determining how best to structure your organization for optimal project delivery.


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