Staff Allocation Challenges in a Matrix Organization

TenStep's Method123 templates blog, reproduced for you below, provides some insight into Allocating Staff in a Matrix Organization. In many organizations, the matrix approach is a given, but it does come with some real challenges.

The basic reality with matrix organizations is that there is competition for resources. as a result, resources are not necessarily allocated according to plan - whether of the project manager, or anyone else. Conflicts can easily arise when an unrelated project has an overrun or schedule disruption. Various projects can complete for the same resources - and the winners are not necessarily those that benefit the organization the most!

The big point is that the project manager needs to manage resources that are not totally under his/her control, adding a high degree of complexity to the project - both for the project manager and the organization as a whole. As a result, projects in matrix organizations carry an additional layer of risk.

You can find related templates to help you manage projects at

Here's the TenStep post, "Two Keys to Allocating Staff in a Matrix Organization":

Identifying and allocating staff to your project is a critical component of project HR management. In a matrix organization people are assigned full time to a functional organization, but can be temporarily assigned full-time or part-time to a project as well. In this case, their functional manager may be responsible for part of a team member’s workload, and a project manager is responsible for assigning the work associated with the project. The matrix is especially efficient if your project does not need a full-time and long term commitment from team members. These people can be used on projects for as long as needed and the revert back to their functional organization.

The matrixed organization can be the most efficient at utilizing and leveraging people’s time and skills. However, it only works if the functional manager and project manager (or multiple project managers) recognize the challenges and work together for the company’s overall benefit. The two areas to focus on are planning and communication. Planning ensures the resources are reserved for your project. Communication helps ensure that the resources are actually there when you need them.

  1. Planning. Functional managers and project managers need to plan the resource needs together and in advance. The functional managers need to maintain a planning window of upcoming projects and an estimate of their resource needs. If your staffing requirements fluctuate a lot from month-to-month, or if the projects cannot be forecast many months in advance, you can at least plan using a three-month rolling window. You then update and refine the plan on a monthly basis. The closest month should be pretty firm. Two months out should be pretty close. Three months out and beyond is best guess.
  2. Communication. After the planning comes the proactive communication. Remember that in a matrix organization, project managers need resources to do their work, but they do not own them – the functional managers do. So, the onus is usually on the project managers to make sure that the resources are available when they are needed, and that there are no surprises. For instance, if you and the functional manager agrees that a specific set of people will be available for one of your projects in two months, don’t just show up in two months and expect them to be ready to go. In fact, you should expect that they will not be ready if you have not communicated often and proactively. The project manager should gain agreement on resources two months in advance. The resources should be confirmed again at the next monthly staff allocation meeting. The project manager should double-check resources again two weeks before the start date, and follow-up with a reminder one week out. You are much more likely to have the resources available when you need them if you take these proactive steps.

Many companies and organizations struggle trying to optimize the people allocation in a matrix organization. You can get software to help make this easier. But software is just a tool. Overall staffing success in a matrix organization depends on having good planning processes in place, maintaining a partnering relationship between the project managers and functional managers, and communicating proactively and effectively.

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