For delivery-focused organizations, how your teams – both functional and project – are structured can pave the way to success or misery. There is no one-size-fits-all answer as there are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches. To schools of though exist on this – Pods or Team Matrix. Pods are essentially a team of people who work together on multiple projects as a self-contained unit. In a Team Matrix environment, project teams are assigned usually on availability (or geography or skillset or other criteria). This post will describe three key elements to consider when determining what structure to go with.
Consistency of Delivery Methodology
When an organization has a solid delivery methodology, customers come to expect consistent delivery patterns from any team in that organization, regardless of the actual personnel conducting the work. When teams are structured in a pod scenario, there can (not always) be a tendency to deviate from the standard methodology based on what that team feels should be done. Not that that’s always a bad thing but if unchecked it can lead to varying degrees of delivery which could negatively impact the overall customer experience when they have multiple projects with your organization. In a matrix scenario this is far less likely to happen, simply given that individuals are always working with different individuals and tend to not build up a collective alternative way of executing delivery.
Personality and Skillset Complements
One of the big advantages of going to a pod-based delivery structure is that teams get used to working with one another and learn each others strengths and weaknesses. A consideration that you must not take lightly when moving to a pod-based delivery structure is building your pods in a manner that all will be successful. Leaders (well, Managers) can have a tendency to stick all your rock stars together to be the “A” team and then match up some newer or struggling resources and provide mentorship or coaching from outside the pod. This is a likely recipe for disaster as the “coaching and mentorship” is usually the first thing that gets sacrificed on the calendar when things get busy (and things always get busy!). Your rock star team may be blowing everyone away but your “B” team will struggle mightily. It’s good to put a mix of stronger and weaker resources in a nice mix so that your teams can balance out. This is something that also needs to be considered even when using a matrix style structure as you are still pairing up delivery teams, and on a much more frequent basis.
Priority Management and Resource Allocation
One significant advantage that a pod-style scenario has over matrix is the ability for teams to be more autonomous with priority setting. For example, say your pod has 2 competing projects, one is overdue and in need of more time from your team, the other is moving along fine but doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room. You as a project manager (in a pod-based structure) would/should have the autonomy to determine if you pull resources off your ‘green’ project to help out your ‘red/yellow’ project. Having full authority over the priorities of the pod members would allow you to make that an easy decision (one way or the other) without having to negotiate with another project manager and potentially impact one or many other projects.
There’s no silver-bullet answer for which structure is better. I’ve worked in both structures and both worked well with their own respective challenges. What I’ve presented here shouldn’t be all you examine when considering making an organizational structure change but you should at least understand the potential challenges (and benefits) to choosing a direction.