In this guide we show how today’s businesses, which require greater flexibility and often need to share finite resources, can benefit from matrix management. Furthermore we aim to demonstrate that much of the classical approach to management, although often valid, is too rigid for the modern organisation.
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Table of Contents
For many organisations line management structure is principally based on function and resource supply and not on the resource demands needed to satisfy the delivery of projects or large-scale organisational change. Since many organisations continually implement change, the use of project teams is widespread, which results in project and line management structures coexisting in the form of matrix management.
Unless properly introduced matrix management runs the risk that staff will receive conflicting instructions. Indeed, some argue that matrix structures have proved all but unmanageable, with dual-reporting leading to conflict and confusion, and a loss of accountability resulting from overlapping responsibilities.
The project management organisation is based on a customer-supplier environment: the customer specifies the desired result and the supplier provides resources and skills to accomplish the specified outcome. What’s more, the project is a temporary organisation that is created for the sole purpose of delivering change. Typically, project resources are supplied by line management.
In contrast, corporate organisations are structured in different ways, depending on their aims and culture, to allow the responsibilities of different functions and processes to be clearly allocated to departments and employees. For example, tall, flat, hierarchical, and centralised and decentralised.
Since the division of work and methods of grouping seen in line management structures are inclined to be comparatively permanent, organisations are increasingly adopting more flexible forms of structure based on project teams. Matrix management offers the advantages of flexibility, greater security and control of the project, and opportunities for employee development.
Typically, project teams are established for delivering change. And the needs of the customer—whether internal or external to the organisation—may draw upon resources from different parts of the business.
However, when implementing organisational change it is very likely that the organisation’s specialists are the most valuable resource. Consequently, it is often necessary to share their expertise because duplication is impractical or cannot be justified.
An organisation planning to implement change can benefit from matrix management for the following reasons
- Project teams are set up on a temporary and finite basis for the attainment of (internal) customers’ needs. Once a project is completed team members are reassigned to other work. Knowledge and expertise is retained by the organisation.
- Project teams are highly suited to people working on a common task or project such as the introduction of new business processes and the associated information systems.
- Project teams are dynamic and innovative structures that can view problems in a different way because specialists are brought together in a new environment. Individuals are chosen according to the needs of the project.
- Project managers are directly responsible for completing the project scope within a specific time-scale and budget. In uncertain times (during change) the project manager will need strong leadership skills to make sure the organisation pulls in the same direction. Empowerment, through decision-making responsibility, makes it easier for the project manager to accept and make a success of the project.
Responsibilities, Authority and People
However, there are a number of potential problems with matrix organisations. These include
- A feeling of ambiguity caused by staff moving from one project to another as required by their resource manager.
- A conflict of loyalty between line managers and project managers over the allocation of resource allocation. This can play out in different ways. For example, functional groups may neglect their usual duties and responsibilities.
- The outcome of dual reporting is the loss of unity of command, which can lead to problems of coordination and prioritisation.
- Project managers may experience problems of authority over their team members, especially if they are from another department or team. Likewise they may not gain the support of other functional managers.
- If teams have a lot of independence they can be difficult to monitor (which is why the agreements between project and line management are essential.)
- Costs can be increased if more managers (that is, project managers) are created through the use of project teams.
Furthermore, if an employee is receiving instructions from more than one superior then authority is undermined. Dual command is a source of conflict that leads to a loss of discipline and threatens order and stability. However, in view of modern HR practices and the decline in confrontational attitudes such cases for conflict are less relevant if managed effectively.
What’s more, the principles of classical management are still relevant to matrix management and the project organisation. For instance, the need for people to act together with unity of action, the exercise of authority and the need for discipline—effective leadership—are just as important to matrix management as to traditional line management.
Successful Matrix Management
Matrix management offers greater flexibility when businesses implement change. However, for matrix management to succeed leaders must create and environment where priorities are agreed and conflict is resolved without escalating. They must communicate for buy-in to make sure the message about the change is understood. And they must gain the support and commitment of resource managers.
What’s more, performance management systems must align to organisational goals. Measures and rewards should set objectives for both matrix management and line management. If teams members with matrix management responsibilities are to be held accountable for their individual achievements they must be given the necessary authority to meet them. Thus responsibility and authority are held in balance at all levels across the project team.
We must recognise that change projects cannot be run successfully with vaguely defined roles. There should be a single point of responsibility for each aspect of work. Meaning responsibilities are commonly agreed and documented and all team members made aware of their roles.
The potential difficulties of matrix management can be overcome if all levels of management recognise two simple rules
- Matrix management responsibilities are to agree plans for the project or change (in light of any other existing demands from line management or other projects) and then to work to them.
- Line management responsibilities (in this context) are to honour such agreements.
Furthermore to avoid conflict of interest the role of the project manager and resource (line) manager are exclusive—the resource manager works for the benefit of the employee and the business while the project manager works for the benefit of the customer and the business.
However, in the end it is people who decide the success or failure of any project or change initiative. An aim of every leader is to find and acquire competent people, motivate them, and gain their commitment.
Creative Commons image courtesy Mark Demers.