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Project management is the coordination of various activities in the pursuance of a set target or goal. Since a project combines many divergent processes and steps in the realization of a set goal, a proper coordination mechanism has to be adopted to realize efficient results. Organizational structures are various forms of tools that project managers use to arrive at intended goals. They can therefore be described as formal coordination systems that create hierarchical channels of authority as well as the responsibilities that each employee and department ought to partake towards the realization of set goals and objectives. Organizational structures could either be vertical (here, the authorities that make decisions and conduct supervision on the subordinates are clearly identified) or horizontal (In this case, a basis for separating labor into precise jobs and errands and handing over those jobs into units is identified) in design.
Depending on the nature of task involved, the organizational structure adopted should be one that can facilitate teamwork, can maximize in an efficient manner the existing limited resources to bring out the expected outputs and can result into a quality and efficient outcome taking into account he expected results. There are three distinct forms of organizational structures that can be applied in the process of project maintenance. These are the functional, pure and matrix organizations whose applications depend on the situations at hand.
Functional structure/ organization
In this structure, similar jobs and activities are placed under same departments. This means that people with similar skills like for instance software engineers would be grouped together under one department. Such departments contain specialized persons on particularly significant issues. It should be noted though that his method works best when applied in routine work functions like in the case of small scale organizations that participate within environments that are stable and in the achievement of quality results and efficient working standards. This is because employees are located in regions where they are specialized. This maximizes on their output and working relations as their partners would be equally specialized. A relatively small project can apply this method with much ease. This method does not produce effective results when applied in complex projects (Richman, 2002).
Advantages of functional structure
It is easily adapted because it applies centralized decision making systems. In this case therefore there exists unity of command. This means that instructions and directions are generated from one person. These decisions are passed on to the respective departments through the various departmental heads. It also creates room for growth in the employees. The employees get to develop expertise in their areas of concentration and not only become more efficient, but also advance their professionalism within the business function.
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Despite the seemingly important advantages, this method of organization has its fair share of disadvantages. For instance, coordination problems could arise thereby resulting into non-realization of customer needs. This could poison the whole project’s objective of satisfying the customer’s needs. Instances of increased competition amongst the relevant sub sectors involved in the project could lead to internal conflicts. This could be for in stance due to favoritism to one department and variations in levels of production amongst the existing departments. Employees in a bid to create the best out of their respective departments may choose to pursue the unit’s goals rather than the corporate goals or customer needs. Communication barrier can also be a challenge to such forms of structures. Other shortcomings would be lack of in built mechanisms to recognize employee’s efforts and minimal accountability on the part of individual as the outcome will be assessed on a departmental level and not an individual level.
Pure/ project structure
In this case, the structure chosen would be one to realize a specific objective after which the whole structure is disbanded. This is to imply that their existence depends on the realization of a specific outcome. In a broader sense it could also be referred to as the divisional or product driven approach. This is to say that personnel in the project could be organized into various groups considering similarities in the output. This could be with purpose to realize the objectives in as far as the unit is concerned. It is designed specifically to realize the objectives of complex projects by pointing out the unique work and constantly focusing on finishing the project. These projects are normally difficult to plan accurately as they are normally characterized by inaccurate measurements on the levels of resources required and provision levels needed. Its application in complex matters is justified by the fact that specialized knowledge would be required to arrive at conclusive results (Moore 2002). This can only be achieved when special attention is accorded to the objective and as such a specialized labor force is applied. In terms of companies, this method can be applied by large scale organizations in an environment whose uncertainty levels would be moderately high. Divisions that can be created in the division approach could include geographic-based divisions (organizations put preference on markets constituted by customers and their locations would be varied), customer-based divisions (organizations focus on specific types of customer needs) and conglomerates (composed of a set of unrelated businesses where each business is run independently from the other businesses).
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It is very effective in maintaining resources throughout the project duration. Besides it has a higher flexibility and responsiveness to change, allows for unrestricted innovations and changes, easily adjustable costs of operation, improved communication links i.e. shorter and efficient lines exist. There exists a centralized authority in the form of the project manager, limited or no functional loyalties on the part of the project team member, relative ease in incorporating external consultants and execution of a series of related projects. Largely, it also allows managers to develop skills and increase accountability as well as improving on the delivery of services.
There exists a high possibility for duplication of resources, reduced specialization in skills, and competition among divisions. Other disadvantages include inefficient transfer of technology and poor utilization of resources. As the project dedicates resources throughout its existence cases of underutilized employees may arise at certain points in the project.
In this case, both the functional and project structures are compromised into one. This therefore means that this approach encompasses the other two methods discussed earlier on. The project approach is superimposed on the functional approach. The result is often an efficient, flexible and responsive structure. Division of labor is such that the project managers are tasked with defining the goals and requirements of the projects while the functional managers take on rather administrative roles. It is widely employed in This structure therefore has the advantages discussed in the two structures above alongside helping employees to develop cross-functional skills as well as getting more involved in making decisions.
It could however disrupt the unity of command that is so essential in organization. This means that the employees are left with two authorities to attend to i.e. the product and functional managers. Decisions on coordination and resolution of conflicts could be overly focused on.
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Having discussed the three distinct classes of organizational structure, it is easy to pick the relative differences that exist in as far as the natures of the activities are concerned. However what is not clear is the comparisons that exist between these three classes. Of importance is that they all try to describe departmentalization as a key element of horizontal organizational structure. This implies that these three designs operate across hierarchical structures to make every step efficient. Functional structures are the oldest and its application was widely used in the past years. The pure structure was invented later on to correct for the flaws exhibited by the functional structure but was overtaken by the matrix design. Most projects have resorted to the matrix design and the results have been a justification of the use of a hybrid system. Therefore, anyone who wants to undertake a project must first recognize its nature before figuring out which of the three structures to apply.