So how does matrix management help to deliver such an objective? The matrix model came from the recognition that companies not only have vertical chains of command but that people also work horizontally, across their functional specialization. This network of interfaces is the matrix and has been seen as an ideal structure in which fast moving businesses can operate. In theory, the matrix allows managers to harness the services of employees irrespective of their function, to work collaboratively on key projects.
On such projects the matrix manager can pool the necessary resource in order to achieve what, from the strategic objective, is the overriding priority. It is a concept that, initially at least, has great appeal. It draws on the full potential of the HER resource. It slices through unwieldy lines of control. It frees up leadership in everyone concerned, not relying the few people who have positional power.
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However, there are inherent problems with the matrix structure. A single multi-disciplinary, or cross-functional team is one thing – but what happens when a number of these jurisdictional teams are working simultaneously requiring people to relate to one another vertically, horizontally, and diagonally, all at the same time? Once heralded as a great organizational breakthrough, the overriding concern about matrix management is how to make it work.
It may be that matrix structures are exciting, dynamic and innovative but they require people to be able and willing to serve more than one master to derive any potential benefits and this may have more to do with culture and behavior than any intrinsic organizational design. The inspiration Some commentators suggest that matrix management was first practiced in the Second World War – but more reliably its origins can be traced back to the US space aerogramme of the sass when President Kennedy outlined his vision to put man on the moon.
In order to achieve such an objective NASA had to revolutionist its project approach and so the “matrix organization” was born – to facilitate the energy, creativity and decision-making needed to achieve this grand vision. The initial success of what has been called, “the only new form of organization in the twentieth century’, (by Paul Evans in Managing the Global Company) ensured that matrix management received a lot of attention in the sass.
This came to a head with classic Harvard Business Review article on DOD-Corning’s worldwide matrix in 1974 written by the company’s chairman. The matrix organization was in vogue and organizations such as Xerox, Digital Equipment Corporation and Citibank all employed two boss matrix management structures as they sought to maximize productivity and harness resources. But although people applauded the intent to keep organizations agile, by the sass it was clear that it wasn’t such an easy task and corporate enthusiasm began to wane.
However, the impetus for finding ways of encouraging people to work flexibly and retentively has only intensified and by the sass matrix management had found a new form in the manifestation of empowerment and virtual teams where the focus was increasingly on customer service and speed of delivery. Research suggests that the matrix approach is still the dominant approach for completing projects today. The vulnerability of the matrix to pressure from competing managers will always be a problem but in what have become known as projectiles organizations – where the focus is on teams with cross-functional expertise – it offers clear benefits.
Such matrix teams draw on people with the exquisite skills and competence for any given project and, in return, they offer variety, learning and new opportunity to those involved as well as speed and flexibility on the project itself. This, of course, is in complete contrast to the functional organization based on classic hierarchy where groups are divided along knowledge lines, where each employee reports to exactly one supervisor and where project progress tends to be measured and controlled but also very slow.
Experimentation In the sass the concept of matrix management looked like a key business roughhouse, but by the early sass observers like Tom Peters were claiming that such a structure was Just too complex ever to be effective. What worked well for aerospace projects simply didn’t translate to more prosaic enterprises. People working in matrix teams seemed unable to negotiate satisfactorily over resource issues and cost allocations and individual team members and their managers couldn’t agree where responsibility should lie.
As a result early enthusiasts for the matrix organization, such as Citibank, DOD Chemicals and Digital Equipment began to ever to simpler structures and the matrix has even been blamed by some for Xerox’s decline in the sass. However, the matrix concept still had validity. Some business thinkers may have quickly consigned the matrix to history but according to research by David Gobble and Erik Larsen (1986) the matrix was still the most popular structure for product developers.
The world was speeding up, not slowing down, and an organization’s ability to draw on the competence of the whole workforce was more pressing than ever. So the question still remained, how could it be achieved? By the sass the language had changed and the business issue was seen to be about being nimble. The New York Times in 1991 declared: “Battleship IBM is trying to become a fleet of nimble destroyers”, a headline which reminded observers that the challenge was still firmly focused on how to get beyond hierarchy and how to get people in multi-disciplinary teams to work together effectively.
One shining example of an entrepreneur who did much to show that matrix management could work was David Kelley, whose company David Kelley Design (DDCD) later grew into DIED, and ho is a champion for the idea of taking ideas from “concept to the customer”. As an example of matrix management DIED is unique. It has been described as chaotic, frenzied, energetic, playful and intuitive but what characterizes it is the way in which everyone comes together to brainstorm their ideas at the beginning of every project.
The keys to the DIED culture are fast invention led by commercial considerations and cross-fertilization combined with people’s desire to learn. In Liberation Management Tom Peters talks about his experience with David Kelley which illuminates how matrix management can work: “Reporting relationships are no big deal I was told repeatedly. It’s normal for a project manager to be working for one of his subordinate team members who’s leading another project. Who works for whom is mostly unclear, mostly irrelevant. ‘My boss is my subordinate is my boss’ one designer told me with a s hour.
That’s organization for you. ” In this context matrix management is more a frame of mind rather than a structure. The goal for those who want more of this entrepreneurial energy is to build a matrix of corporate values and priorities in the minds of managers and let them make the Judgments and negotiate the deals that make the strategy pay off. 2 Validation It may have been that matrix management was a head of its time. In the sass and sass captive markets allowed organizations to flourish even with rigid structures. Today everyone is lean and mean.
Hierarchies are unwieldy and flat structures with team based operations are seen as essential to service delivery. In a world driven by who can get to market first and who can respond flexibly to customer need there is a sense that matrix structures fit far more comfortably with current reality. Leaders are developing the requisite skills too. In matrix structures leaders need to be influence’s, facilitators and persuaders and many leadership development programmers are emphasizing the new attitudes, skills and behaviors required in order to be able to lead effectively.
Of course the issue of who wields the power is still an obstacle in matrix structures, especially when there are conflicting interests at stake, but in companies with less spare resource but increasingly urgent deadlines the matrix promises the best option for many project and product development initiatives. Meanwhile different forms of the matrix have emerged: 4 The weak matrix. In this case a project manager oversees staff from different functions but still reports in to his or her functional manager.
Such a structuring of the project allows some engagement of those with a stake in the project and enhances the possibility for communication across functional areas – but it is still hierarchical and for this reason retains most of the problems associated with a functional organization. 4 The strong matrix – In the strong matrix the project manager is independent of functional management. Indeed in this model it is the role of functional managers to support the project by providing technical expertise and assigning resources as and when required.
Of course in this structure there is potential for conflict between the project manager and the functional manager over resource assignment and cost allocation – as a result excellent communication, strong relationships and a flexible working culture are required. 4 The balanced matrix – In this example power and accountability are shared equally by the project manager and the functional managers concerned. This ‘ideal’ model was the one most commonly tried out in the early days of matrix management but power sharing is tricky and emotional resilience on the part of all concerned is essential.
Not surprisingly it is considered that this is the most difficult system to maintain. Dissemination The concept of matrix organizations is still evolving and is being driven relentlessly by the knowledge economy. Some of the forms in which matrix management manifest itself have other names: The ad-hoc project team typically works in a matrix design. Members often belong to efferent functions but are loaned out to work for a period of time according to the project need.
The virtual team is a structure typically based around a project goal or a service solution. Relationships within the team are the primary method of gaining support and leadership is the responsibility of each individual. Effective communication in such a structure is critical. The cross-functional team comprises a group of people with different functional skills working towards a common goal. Such teams may well be project teams, gathering information, making decisions and generating support from stakeholders to achieve heir objective.
The self-directed team is a team that is empowered to take decisions and actions to resolve day to day issues. Self directed teams may comprise people within one function or across functions but they are driven more by initiative rather than corporate directive. 3 The multicultural team typically drawn from people from different countries to combine their expertise for a given project. This team may take many different forms depending on purpose and objectives. This is by no means an exhaustive list but, rather, highlights how the matrix is