Secrets to Successful Maintenance and Reliability Projects

Noria Corporation
Tags: maintenance and reliability

In the areas of maintenance and reliability, projects are an ongoing concern. Many of the activities that we do on a daily basis are, in fact, projects. A lubrication technician’s daily route, a gearbox overhaul, process mapping, failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) on critical equipment or a plant expansion to satisfy greater production needs – all of these are activities we may encounter daily, and they are all projects in their own right. But how do we ensure that these projects are successful?

Defining Success
Project success is typically defined by a project manager’s ability to effectively manage the triple constraint; that is to say, managing a project to scope, within set time and cost parameters with the notion to deliver a quality product or result. Quality is defined as delivering a result that meets project requirements. A project manager’s ability to effectively manage the triple constraint has a direct impact on project quality.

Project managers need to clearly identify the client’s definition of quality. At minimum, it is safe to assume that the client will expect the project to be effectively managed (delivered on time, on budget and to scope). Beyond the fundamental management of the project, however, the project manager needs to understand what the client is trying to achieve by undertaking and completing this project. What results, value, anticipated benefits or strategic objectives does he or she expect? This must be clear to the project manager because this is how the project’s success or quality will be defined.

Your company’s organizational structure may also have a significant impact on the success of your project. While there are many ways to organize a company for successful management, there are some models and management styles that optimize your chances for project success. A close look at how your company operates will provide you with insight into what type of management organization your company employs.

Organizations fall somewhere between fully functional and fully projectized along the organizational continuum. Somewhere in the middle of this continuum are matrix organizations.

Organizational Influences on Project Management
Table 1. Organizational Influences on Project Management

So how does your organizational structure impact project success? It all boils down to the extent of the project manager’s degree of authority and control over the project, and his or her ability to influence and manage the time, cost and scope of the project. This is illustrated in Table 1.

Functional Organizations
Functional organizations, often referred to as silos, are common in many industries. Within these organizations, resources are grouped by areas of capability or specialty, communications are largely limited within the boundaries of these areas, and authority is defined in the shape of a pyramid. In other words, the higher up an individual’s role lands on the pyramid, the higher his or her rank. When projects are initiated in this organizational setting, project managers have limited authority and control over the project. Functional managers effectively hold all authority to make decisions and, in most cases, functional work is usually given precedence over project work. Functional organizations are not conducive to project management and project success.

Matrix Organizations
Organizations that have adopted a matrix design will fall into one of three subcategories: weak (functional), balanced or strong (projectized).

Weak Matrix
Within weak matrix organizations, projects are typically supported by one of two roles: project expeditor or project coordinator. Project expeditors report directly to one functional manager and have minimal authority, control or influence over the project.

Project coordinators in a weak matrix have limited authority like project expeditors, although they do have a bit more influence given their place within the organizational chart. They report to a higher level, above the functional management level, and therefore have the authority to assign work to functional groups. Like the functional organization, the weak matrix does not provide a favorable project environment.

Organizational Continuum

Figure 1. Organizational Continuum

Balanced Matrix
These organizations are a balanced blend of functional management and fully projectized management. In the balanced matrix, projects are coordinated from within the functional areas. Subject matter experts often manage projects with all the responsibility of a project manager but with none of the authority. The project manager must still share authority with the functional managers. This is usually a difficult position from which to manage a project, because the project staff often suffer from dual-boss syndrome, reporting to more than one manager. Sharing authority is also a delicate undertaking and can ultimately slow a project or take it off course if the project manager and functional manager(s) do not agree on certain project aspects.

Strong Matrix
Strong matrix organizations, also known as a projectized matrix, exhibit all the characteristics of a fully projectized organization. However, these teams are assembled based on project type for a temporary period, but they work full-time on project activities. Project managers in the strong matrix organization manage projects on a full-time basis and report to a higher level of management than the other matrix examples. In this model, the project manager is primarily responsible for the entire project. The strong matrix allows the project manager to request functional resources as needed from the functional managers.

Balanced Matrix Organization

Figure 2. Balanced Matrix Organization

Depending on what model your company most closely resembles, your maintenance or reliability projects may suffer slowdowns. Knowing and understanding the model helps to expedite your work. While a more projectized organization may make it easier to successfully manage a project, it is only one element of project success. Project success is possible in any organization, regardless of structure. What’s important is that you recognize the model within which you work and use this knowledge to define, plan and execute your projects to ensure built-in success. POA


1. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Third Edition. 2004.

2. Galbraith, J.R. Matrix Organization Designs: How to Combine Functional and Project Forms. Business Horizons, February 1971.