Part 2: Managing in a Matrix Structure: Dealing With the Challenges

In my last post on project management in a matrix structure, I shared 4 challenges. These are the challenges that I want to discuss this week.
This was the topic Shilpa Arora (PMP) spoke about at a Women in Technology event. These were the 4 challenges she talked about:
Authority lacking
For you and your team, confusion and ambiguity
Feeling out of control
Time pressure

Let’s take a look at each one individually.
Authority lacking
In a matrix structure, the project manager does not have authority over the team members. How can you handle this?
Shilpa stated, “This is about talking with other people about your project and telling them how important you think your projects are.” Substitute authority for influence. “Coffees, lunches, and meetings are work if you make them so.”
Establish relationships with people in the extended team, including suppliers and functional heads. It takes a lot of work,” she said. “Relationships don’t get built overnight.”
To build your influence, use carrots such as recognition and compensation. Many project managers feel they don’t have anything to offer, but you can always find something. Negotiate overtime, especially for junior staff. Share your success and say thanks.
And do favours. You’ll need to do a favor one day.
For you and your team, confusion and ambiguity
Team members often feel confused in matrixed environments. Who are they working for? What are their priorities?
Clarify the roles and responsibilities for each member of the project team. For each workstream, create a terms-of-reference document for the Project Board.
You can clarify the steps for conflict resolution so that if something goes wrong (and it will), you know who to escalate to.
Stakeholder management is a great way to remove ambiguity. You will be able to communicate with your stakeholders better if you get to know them.
Shilpa stated that project managers often focus on the issues. She suggested that project publicity should be a priority and that milestones should be highlighted. “Make sure they don’t forget what you’ve done.”
Feeling out of control
Do you feel like everything is falling apart? Feel like you don’t know what is happening? That is something you can manage.
First, be confident even if you’re not. It is possible to control your nerves. I know this because I do it every time I speak in public. Despite feeling nervous, people tell me that it doesn’t show.
Shilpa stated, “It doesn’t matter how difficult your problem is,” and that “if you look out-of-control the team will too.”
Second, talk. Second, talk. Talk to a mentor or coach, or a trusted colleague. It is best to find someone who understands your situation but not someone who works on the exact same project.
Third, prioritise ruthlessly. “Is the world going stop if I don’t do this?” Shilpa asked. Do only what is absolutely necessary until you get back on your feet.
Time pressure
Projects, whether they are matrixed or not can be under constant pressure to complete tasks on time. It can be even worse in a matrix structure due to competing priorities and the need to meet deadlines with limited management support. Here are some ways to deal with it.
We are good at challenging estimates of others, but very poor at our own. Shilpa stated, “Add 10% if you are ambitious and know it.”
Ask for help. Shilpa spoke about the possibility of a secondee, a graduate student working on the project, or an MBA student looking to find a placement for their dissertation. Although it might not be beneficial in the short-term, there are overheads that could make this a viable strategy for some projects, particularly if you have substantial work.