Now that I'm working at higher levels within companies, I come across different groups and people with high-level responsibilities - bodies responsible for funding decisions, governance, CEOs, CIOs, Heads of IT, programme managers, department heads, etc. I've got a vague picture of a pyramidal hierarchy in my head, but some of these groups don't seem to fit exactly into it.

Is there any information out there on how large companies are traditionally structured? I'd like to be better able to spot when a company is structured differently to the norm, particularly as relates to Lean / Agile transformations, so any information about common variations would also be useful. I'm also particularly interested in the lifecycle of software projects - not just in the development space, but as relates to funding decisions, go-live decisions, etc., and the different groups responsible for those.


5 Answers 5


Look into Functional, Matrix and Projectized organizational structures.

The PMBOK Guide has a good description of the three (and permutations/blends of them) in Chapter 2.

  • Yes, this is exactly what I was looking for. Wikipedia turns out as usual to have further links. Ta!
    – Lunivore
    Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 17:32

Most organisations have both formal and informal hierarchies, where the formal one is the one that is shown on the org chart / structure chart, and the informal one represents the influence that individuals have. Don't try to reconcile the two - it can seldom be done. I worked in one small company where a trainee was the son of a friend of the managing director, and was pulled into all sorts of strategic projects where he had influence way above his formal position. And it happens in large companies too!

My advice is to try to understand the informal structure, and get close to the key decision-makers wherever they are in the organisation. They will know the buttons to push and levers to pull to get decisions that they want. It's called office politics, and you have to be very good to play the game properly (and it can be very dangerous if you get it wrong!). I am not suggesting that you will get support for poor decisions, and nor should you, but you may be able to find ways to fast-track good decisions within whatever governance structure the organisation has adopted.

  • Thanks Iain9688. I'm not so bad at the office politics - what I'm looking for is to help the influential people restructure or at least understand how to leverage the existing structure appropriately, and find decision-makers quickly (I'm often around for weeks or months rather than years). It's hard to know what's changeable and what's not at the moment, so I thought I'd start with the basics.
    – Lunivore
    Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 9:37

I don't think there is actually a right or wrong answer as to how large companies are structured. The short answer is: It depends on the company culture.

Take Apple, for instance. Steve Jobs was involved in every decision at every level and is at the center of the hierarchy. If you look about halfway down this article you will see that the hierarchy at Apple was organized so that each person is only a few levels from Steve Jobs.

Apple Hierarchy Before Steve jobs left

At Google, engineering projects are managed more strategically. For instance, when I went to Google IO this year, I really got the impression that the 13 engineers and product team members at the App Engine Fireside Chat had a large degree of decision making authority.

Of the Top 20 Percent Projects at Google, Gmail and Google Talk are two major successes that came from a less traditional hierarchical structure.

In my experience, I've never worked at two places where the hierarchy was the same. There was always some difference whether it be at the higher executive levels or all throughout the organization.


The field of organizational behavior includes (among many other things) how people within an organization structure themselves and how that influences behaviors and attitudes. It also encompasses the scientific study of human resources and management. It sounds like what you are most interested in is the concepts of organization structure and organizational dynamics.

Unfortunately, I only took a single organizational behavior course, and it was a survey. I can't recommend any single books on these topics, but hopefully knowing the name of some academic fields of study might point you in the right direction of finding books, magazines, journals, or websites that have more about what you're looking for.

  • Thanks, I appreciate the pointer - always useful to know what you don't know!
    – Lunivore
    Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 17:27
  • Yeah. I wish my business management minor allowed for more courses in OB, but not too many exist at an undergraduate level and even fewer could fit into the minor. It's actually a pretty interesting field, though, and it plays a major role in some areas of interest for me, such as process improvement.
    – Thomas Owens
    Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 17:33

For anyone else reading this, Richard Durnall just gave me this excellent booklist:

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.