Photo by Logan Callen

Local Government Organizational Structure

The structure that projects can take depends on the organizational structure of the organization. A local government, like Spokane in Washington state, can have a variety of different forms. Since 2001 when the city changed its form of government, it has been operating under a Mayor-Council form (MRSC 2021). This format is recognizable due to its similarities at the Federal level with the President and Congress. The other common format is the Council-Manager form that was popularized by the television show “Parks and Recreation” where an elected city council appoints a professional city manager to run operations. The Mayor-Council form allows for separations of power that provides more balance. However, disagreements between the different branches can create gridlocks and inaction. Elections also offer higher visibility and voice for mayors but that comes with the risk that the qualities it takes to win an election are not the same qualities that it takes to run city operations. A skilled administrator working for the mayor can help make up for a mayor’s lack of management experience. However, this format gives the mayor a lot of power and makes them very difficult to remove before the end of their term (MRSC n.d).

The mayor is responsible for the administrative portion of the city government and manages all the operations. Many cities, like Spokane, are organized by their functional divisions based on the services they provide like Police, Fire, Parks, Libraries, and Public Works for example. This organizational method functions well because each division can utilize the experts and specialists in their division in a flexible way to create depth of knowledge for creative solutions to technical problems as they arise (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 149). The collaborative aspect that occurs during projects helps enable knowledge transfer and provides continuity of business operations if a single member leaves. Projects that take place in a functional organization can also provide more advancement opportunities for individuals as they gain more experience and knowledge in their profession (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 149). While there are a lot of advantages to functional organization structures when managing projects there are some drawbacks as well.

One of the drawbacks to projects within functional organization structures is that if a project does not align with a member that was chosen to participate then that person’s motivation can be low due to viewing the project as a distraction from their professional progress (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 150). A major issue can often arise called suboptimization where the division builds solutions that optimize their division at the detriment of the overall organization (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 150). This issue also highlights the fact that projects in a functional organization structure are typically not holistic (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 150). Often complex problems require an organization to “de-silo” to view the problem from a more holistic viewpoint with more multifunctional teams.

Efforts to de-silo have led to more exploration of matrix approaches to organization. Initial efforts can often lead to a weak matrix structure where project managers are aiding functional managers, however, tight budgets have led the weak matrix approach to shift into a balanced matrix. In a balanced matrix approach the project budget is shared and project managers run the projects fully. The City of Spokane’s first foray into a balanced matrix structure led to significant multimillion dollar financial savings in their integrated clean water plan (City of Spokane 2014). The efforts to work towards a more balanced matrix structure for project management and the introduction of a PMO office helped further that progress. However, with the large financial and resource pressures brought on by COVID, the city has the potential to slip back into a more functional siloed approach. With the easing of the pandemic, the hope is that Spokane can make more progress on implementing a more balanced matrix organization to help deliver more effective and efficient solutions.

Author: Logan Callen


City of Spokane. 2014. “Integrated Clean Water Plan.” City of Spokane. Accessed April 11, 2022.

Meredith, Jack R., Scott M. Shafer, and Samuel J. Mantel. 2017. Project Management: A Strategic Managerial Approach. 10th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN-13: 9781119369097.

MRSC. 2021. “City and Town Forms of Government.” Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington. August 05, 2021. Accessed April 11, 2022.

—. n.d. “Common Issues and Pro/Con Arguments in Elections to Change Form of Government.” Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington. Accessed April 11, 2022.

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