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Should the project manager be the team members' supervisor/manager? (In other words, should team members report directly to the project manager?) Or should the project manager be in a separate line of authority, so that team members report to their supervisor, who is a different person from the project manager? What are the tradeoffs? What are the costs and benefits of each approach?

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    It would be useful to know how big an organisation this question refers to. If it's very small the merging of the roles might be inevitable, in which case the community might have some ideas on how best to manage this situation. – Willl Oct 12 '12 at 13:49
  • Good point, @Willl; sorry I didn't think to mention that. It's a large organization where those "very small organization" issues don't arise. – D.W. Oct 12 '12 at 14:05
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I tend to think that it can be better to have project team members report to their line manager rather than the project manager.

Generally, as a PM I don't really care that John is working on or assigned to something, I care that his line unit has someone assigned to it and it is going to be done on time/budget. So when I plan projects work gets assigned to department leaders and they delegate who does the work. I have to trust the department leaders to tell me that their teams are overburdened, that they have assigned the right person to the job, etc but I avoid turning myself into having to manage the plan at too low a level.

Having team members report to PMs from an HR point of view can also cause the team members a lot of problems because lines of authority are more clear (if John is working on two or more projects which PM should he report to?) and his/her performance can be better evaluated (if John works on three projects with three different PMs consecutively over a year how do you assess the consistency of his performance? And how do you assure that the evaluation of his performance, which is going to some degree always going to be subjective, is consistently done by the three PMs?).

  • I'm with Doug on this. The PM is responsible for issuing work and then monitoring completion, whereas the line manager is responsible for delivering the packages that have been issued. In a large organisation, with correspondingly large projects (typically), any other structure is unlikely to be sustainable. – Iain9688 Oct 12 '12 at 21:52
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In short: definitely not. For me a project manager needs to be in a more neutral position. From experience I would say that the moment the project manager is placed in a position of authority over the project team the relationship changes radically. I think the project manager should be creating an environment in which the project team are using their expertise and skills in the most effective way possible not telling people what to do. No matter how flat an organisation is in theory the reality is that if your line manager tells you do something you feel like you have to do it.

The merging of line management and project management also assumes that the skill sets are the same. They aren't. There are great managers who couldn't organise a project if they tried and great project managers who would make terrible line managers (not least because lots of PMs don't get line management experience because it's such an unusual set up).

I agree with @Zsolt that the trade off is that lines of communication can sometimes get blurred in this scenario but communication and stakeholder management are as important in a Project as 'getting stuff done'. A good PM should be handling this effectively, raising issues with appropriate supervisors where necessary.

Also agree with Doug B - the moment someone is working on more than one project the idea of merging line management and project management becomes even more complex.

5

Traditionally, the team members report to their line manager unless an issue is related to the project. Additionally, the project manager is very rarely the same person as the line manager, because of the different kind of demand coming from the organization.

Personally, I don't like this approach, because a team member has two supervisors and for example, when she has a organisational problem she goes to the line manager, who will talk to the project manager because it might affect the project as well. So, there are unnecessary rounds made all time and the information is either second-handed or team members shall tell them twice.

In my ideal world, the project manager is the only person the teams are in connection with, and if the number of the project participants is starting to be unmanageable, the PM should make the organization a bit less flat and involve the team leads and technical leads in the decision making and organization issues.

  • So, in your ideal world, each person works on only one project, or at least only on projects managed by one person. – Danny Varod Oct 15 '12 at 17:15
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When an employee reports to someone other than the PM, it is a matrix organization. From a project perspective, this type of organization causes some serious threats on the welfare of the project. Command and control are weakened, and the push-pull effect on the employee's time becomes a competition instead of collaboration.

This type of organization has its fair share of strengths, too. So this is one of those things where a definitive yes or no answer does NOT exist. It is a benefit/cost/risk/penalty balance that should be assessed for a specific organization at that specific time for that specific project. Anyone who adopts an answer--thus, indicating that one is better than other all the time, every time--does so at his/her detriment.

  • What's your experience generally been with PMs line managing people? I've never seen it work well - hence my answer - so I'd be interested to hear of situation where it has. – Willl Oct 12 '12 at 15:04
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    In my current organization, we have it set up both ways. In some projects, the employees report to a different line manager while in others directly to their line manager. I've also been the employee reporting under both scenarios. Pros and cons. If I were forced to pick one, I'd likely pick the non matrix; however, I have experienced the benefits of both so I'd really rather keep my choice as flexible as possible. – David Espina Oct 12 '12 at 15:17
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From a project perspective, they should absolutely report to the PM. What's the old saying - a man cannot serve two masters? The same applies here. And this is for several reasons.

For a PM to be effective, they need both the responsibility, AND the authority to make sure the work goes according to plan. If the team is reporting (accountable) to another manager, the PM no longer has the required authority to make sure things get done. Now they're simply in a position of making requests and hoping. And when it doesn't work, they're the ones held accountable, and the 'they didn't give me people' excuse won't work.

For a team to be effective they need to know that they're all in it together. If you have team members reporting to different line managers (ie: other teams) the team as a whole no longer knows who's committed, how much, when they're available, etc. In short, it's not a 'team', it's associated individuals.

For an individual to be effective they need to be clear on priorities and expectations. If a team member reports to one manager but is also on another team, this creates not only confusion, but tension and stress. Given conflicting tasks, now the team member is being asked to weight priorities and decide which they have to do. At the very least one of the managers will be offended/troubled. but there may also be long-term career problems if they choose wrong.

And this says nothing of the potential/possible issues between the PM and LM. What if the LM resents having to share their people? What if the LM doesn't agree with the project? What if the LM sees it as an opportunity to off-load poor performing people, etc. The list goes on.

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    In regards to the potential issues listed between the PM and LM, I would argue that these are good justifications for separating the PM and LM. A LM that exhibits those behaviors is a risk to an organization that needs to be made visible. A separate PM will help achieve this visibility and thus increase the probability of taking corrective action. – KirMasAna Oct 15 '12 at 3:16
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If the assignment of a team member to a project is long term, having the project manager as supervisor I think it´s benefitial because there is no need to manage priorities between assignments to different projects/programs. Also having the roles combined in the same person contributes to a more accurate track of the performance of the team, very useful to plan training, salary raises, promotions.

This is much more difficult to track when the person is assigned to many projects, and then works for different PMs and it´s important to have a supervisor who is the conductive line of every team member for task assignments and performance track.

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This is a question of responsibilities. Having project team members report to a line manager that is also the same person managing the project means that the line manager has responsibilities for managing team members from an organizational perspective (the link provided identifies managerial responsibilities in an agile environment but they apply here as well) and tackling project management responsibilities.

There are pros and cons to this approach which depend upon the situation.

Pros

  • Cheaper to the organization (1 person performs multiple responsibilities)
  • Less lines of communication (assuming the line manager here doesn't engage in heavy debates with him/herself)
  • Able to use positional authority to speed up decision-making or propel a team that may be stuck.

Cons

  • Potential to hide true team member's allocations to projects.
  • Potential to decrease collaboration within team due to excessive use of positional authority
  • Potential lack of communication/visibility into project details.
  • From an organizational standpoint, it is difficult to align incentives to the individual since 1 person is essentially tackling 2 different roles.

Dividing the responsibilities of line manager and project manager into 2 roles and 2 different individuals will basically flip-flop the pros and cons stated above.

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According to PMBOK, there are three types of organizational management:

Depending on your organization's objectives you can pick one. If your organization is doing business in projects - the first one is right for you and in this case team members report only to the PM (which is better for the project). If your organization is providing a continuous service - the second one will be more effective, where all team members have their own functional/linear managers. Matrix type is a combination of both (and can be weak and strong).

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