Bridging the Gap – How To Be a Formal Project Manager in an Informal Organization

Walking into a casual party in a tuxedo might be awkward; being a formal project manager in an informal organization shouldn't be. More organizations are adopting an informal structure and culture, where job titles and responsibilities become more ambiguous, and the dress code becomes more casual. This move toward an informal corporate structure and culture can present challenges to someone versed in more formal project management methodologies. However, there is a balance to be found between the formal project manager and the informal organization that allows both to thrive. To understand how, we must first dive deeper into organizational structure.

Informality vs. Formality


Formal organizations are more bureaucratic with a top-down structure that sets rules, processes, and procedures for all levels of employees to adhere to. They also tend to have more defined goals and objectives for the organization as well as the individuals. Communication is typically handled through a proper chain of command and "going over your boss's head" is not a wise career decision. In formal organizations, projects are managed through popular project management methodologies such as Waterfall, Agile, Critical Chain/Path, PRiSM, and PRINCE2®. While each methodology has benefits and drawbacks, most formal organizations will adopt best practices to manage the majority of their projects.


An informal organization often takes a more collaborative approach to the way things are managed. Decisions are often made collectively after large brainstorming sessions or feedback is gathered from a large part of the organization. While rules exist, are less likely to be adhered to and even less likely to be enforced with any regularity. The formal "pyramid-like" structure you may find in a formal organization is eschewed for a more linear organization chart. Informal organizations tend to be more agile, dynamic, and responsive to changes in not only the marketplace, but in managing client projects as well.

Failure or Success

Success of an organization often lies in the blending of both the formal and informal structure. Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz said "You can't grow if you're driven only by process, or only by the creative spirit. You've got to achieve a fragile balance between the two sides of the corporate brain."

A project manager with formal training may find it challenging to bring their style of management to an informal organization. If they are successful, they will have bridged the gap between formality and informality. While doing this isn't always easy, a few simple steps can help you realize success.

  1. Set a project schedule and timelines - Setting a project schedule may seem like a formal thing to do. However, setting timelines and schedules up front can help set project expectations with your team and clients. Requirements may change, so the agility of an informal organization to adapt to these new requirements will be beneficial, but also may impact project timelines.
  2. Open the lines of communication - One of the characteristics of an informal organization is the ability to communicate openly about challenges. Allowing this form of communication to permeate your project team can result in open, honest conversations about the challenges they might be facing on the project; ultimately allowing you to mitigate risk early on.
  3. Proper software and collaboration - Having the proper collaborative software can help your informal team work in a more formal manner. Informal organizations will still leverage technology in their everyday work environment, but finding the right technology to introduce to your informal team is crucial.


Having an amalgamation of both approaches will let a project manager to take the advantage of each of the characteristics in the best possible way to bring long-term success in the organization.

If your methodology of choice is PRINCE2® or no method at all, CorePM can help. CorePM is a full featured, collaborative project management application built on the principles on PRINCE2® which allows you and your team to work in a more structured manner by leveraging the power of the cloud. Introduce some formality to your organization, get started with a free trial of CorePM today.

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