Matrix Management : Definitions, Challenges and Example

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Traditional Management vs Matrix Management

Traditional management style meant that each employee had one manager which was responsible to assign tasks to them, monitor their work and periodically give them feedback regarding their overall performance. 

This meant that their direct manager was in charge of their promotion, bonuses, raises etc. This style of management meant that each employee had one reporting line in the OBS (Organizational Breakdown Structure) diagram.


Matrix Management Example
Matrix Management Example
Matrix management began with the intention of employing an employee throughout multiple projects, while doing (more or less) the same thing for all the different projects. This approach was designed at utilizing each employee at a higher workload percentage, and also to replicate their best practices across multiple projects and disciplines.

The result is that each employee works on more than one project at any given time, and has responsibilities with multiple mangers (multiple reporting lines). Only one of those managers is responsible for evaluating the employee’s’ work, and is tasked with promoting that employee.

This manager is known as a “direct manager” or “people manager”, while the other managers are known as “indirect managers” or “matrix managers”. It is not uncommon that all of the employees work is done for indirect managers. Many times employees with similar skills are pooled together into one team, and then each one of them is tasked with working on a different project.

In a diagram the direct manager is denoted by a solid line, and the matrix manager(s) are denoted by a dashed line.

Matrix Management Example

Mia Westin is a programmer in the SW team, and her manager is Ayan Nath who is the SW team lead. Project A needs Maya for 10 weekly hours to write their security code, and Project B needs the same for 25 weekly hours. 

Since Maya is supposed to work 45 weekly hours, she also does QA work for her peers for 10 weekly hours. This results in the fact that she is employed for 45 weekly hours throughout 3 different projects, and has to report to 3 different managers.

Karen Smyth is a PMO in the PM team, and her manager is Svetlana Dyakov who is the head PMO. Karen splits her time evenly between project A and project B (22.5 weekly hours each).

Dan Choi is a server technician in the Engineering team, and his manager is Hana Bethel. Dan works on project A for 15 weekly hours, project B for 20 hours, and project C for 10 weekly hours.

The above diagram gives a visual depiction of the three employees outlined 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Matrix Management

Like with any approach, the matrix management has its advantages and disadvantages. The following bullets outline the major ones.

Advantages 

  • An employee working on various simultaneous projects can apply the lessons learned and best practices they observed in other projects.
  • The utilization of an employee’s workload is higher
  • The cost of the work force is typically lower (mainly due to the bullet above)
  • There is more flexibility in the hands of the PM’s to react to changing demands, scope and deliverables in both the business and technical sides. The project makeup is more dynamic, thus can fit itself to the projects’ needs
  • Increased cooperation between different divisions, teams and projects. This is due to the face that many employees work together on a day-to-day basis, and interpersonal relationships develop due to that
  • A PM can choose the team member (from the entire team) which they feel is the most suited for a particular task
  • The PM is directly accountable for completing the project on time and within scope & budget
  • The employees have larger variety of experiences throughout many different projects

Disadvantages

  • Most employees have many different managers, each pulling in a different direction. This leads to ambiguity regarding responsibilities, loyalties and priorities
  • Frustration among PM’s is common due to the face that their team members have other responsibilities, leading to the fact that they aren’t focused 100% on their project
  • Since the team lead doesn’t always have the projects’ interests at heart, they may prioritize their employee’s responsibilities according to their own agenda
  • Monitoring the progress may prove to be difficult due to the team members’ independence and lack of direct supervision
  • The position of PM is over used and under authorized, leading to higher costs
  • There may be a big difference between skills demonstrated by team members of the same team
  • Employees may be pressurized to work longer hours in order to complete a task (often more than what was agreed in the initial plan)
  • Any employee may be rolled off a project due to the company’s’ change in priorities

Matrix Management Challenges 

A company that has decided to transfer to a matrix management style must understand that there is much more to it than simply restructuring its organizational structure. Each and every employee must change their perspective and shift their thinking regarding their loyalties and skill set. 

Managers must understand that their authority doesn’t come from their position, but rather must lead the team members and motivate them by challenges rather than by promise of reward. Professionals must understand that they need to sharpen their skills, and use a different approach on any given project. 

Many times this will be done on simultaneous projects. The entire company becomes “flat” with less hierarchy, and must become more dynamic in its thinking and reactions to changes in market and customer demand.

Matrix management entails quite a few challenges for the project manager, below are the main ones –

 No linear hierarchy: 

The team members of the project aren’t directly reporting to the PM, and this requires them to invest much more time in interpersonal skills. The PM must understand what motivates each team member, where their skills will be best utilized and how to harness these in order to deliver on-time. Developing interpersonal relationships with the team members will increase their commitment to the project (and the PM)

Multiple responsibilities: 

Each team member may work on other projects in parallel, requiring the PM to understand how they should most efficiently utilize the team members allotted hours

Adaptation capabilities: 

Since any team member may be removed from a project at any given time, the PM must be a dynamic thinker and adaptable to the changing resources at their disposal

Political capabilities: 

Since many PM’s are interested in a limited pool of professionals, they must be able to convince the relevant TL why they should be allotted more hours than other PM’s

Matrix Management Real Life Example

James is a PM, tasked with building a C&C (command and control) room which will be used in an airport. The project includes the actual building of the room, and also equipping it with all the needed furniture and infrastructure (electricity, sewer, internet, etc.). The project excludes the actual operating system of the airport security measures (cameras, smart fence, etc.). 

This means that James will need to manage the builders, electricians, plumbers, sourcing experts, internet technicians, etc. All of which are employees of the same company as James. They are all members of different groups, and none of them directly report to James.

The project started on the 24th of July 2017, and is planned to be completed by the 4th of September 2017. James planned the required team members and their hours, and has secured assurances from their TL’s that they will be available.

A delay in completing the building caused a delay in the start date of the electricians’ (Mark) work. The electricians’ TL updated James that Mark needs to start work on another project, and won’t be able to complete his work on James’ project. 

Furthermore, no other electricians are available to pick up Marks’ slack. James’ solution was to use the contingency fund in order to hire an electrician from outside the company. This resulted in the project going above the planned budget.

Another issue that James had was that the plumber he wanted for the project (one that he worked with in the past) and was promised to him suddenly became unavailable due to the fact that his TL shifted him to another (longer) project. 

This required James to recruit a different plumber from within the company, one with less experience. James was forced to lengthen the timeline for the sewer connection, and receive assurances from the TL that he will be available to consult the new plumber. Fortunately the plumbing wasn’t on the critical path, so it didn’t cause further delays.

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