The matrix organizational structure relies on a coordination of efforts and the pooling of resources among various departments in an organization. As an example, Proctor & Gamble has its Research & Development European Headquarters in the United Kingdom; here, “the local manager wears two hats – one for his product, one for his region” (Martinsons, 1994). Such is the matrix structure, recognizing the truth that specialists working for various departments are resources of the whole organization and may be required for projects that seemingly have nothing to do with the departments where these specialists were originally employed.
Specialists that are chosen from their respective departments to work on projects related to other departments are the pooled resources of the concerned departments, and therefore answerable not only to managers of their own departments but also to project managers of the departments that have borrowed their expertise (Martinsons). Thus, the matrix organizational structure “allows a company to address multiple business dimensions using multiple command structures” (Sy & Cote, 2004).
Gone are the simple “command and control” days – welcome project management (Pasternack & Viscio, 1998)!
Matrix management augments the need for linking all departments within the organization via computer technology. Thus, this modern form of decentralized management and its corresponding organizational structure ease communications within the company. Moreover, the matrix structure requires the Human Resources function, like computer technology, to be used by all departments in a unique way, that is, by requiring Human Resources employees to report not only to their functional head but also to the business departments that they have been assigned for support (Numerof & Abrams, 2002). Experts believe that this dual reporting may appear “overly complex and cumbersome” at times, overwhelming managers with “conflicting goals” (Kearney, 2003). All the same, CEOs continue to prefer the matrix structure over many other forms of management because the matrix, when “properly implemented and managed,” is truly “a powerful tool that can actually help facilitate operations” (Kearney).
Overview of the Implementation Requirements
Yet another unique feature of the matrix structure is that it helps departments within the organization to maintain mutual goals. The benefits of team building may easily apply to matrix structures. Experts advise that matrix structures must be implemented with a focus on their strengths, while the weaknesses of the matrix must be managed (Kearney). From the perspective of the upper management, “the goals of one unit will always reinforce those of other units” (Kearney). So, when functional managers or product managers disagree about goals, the conflict must be managed so as to ensure the continuance of the matrix structure (Kearney).
Indeed, the matrix calls for a high degree of cooperation and coordination within the organization (Kearney). To address “confusion over responsibilities” that might appear from time to time, the matrix organization is advised to use the following techniques: (1) Clearly define and redefine expectations to the employees; (2) Provide ongoing training for working through the matrix; and (3) Institute “formal job rotation to broaden employees skills, perspectives and appreciation for other parts of the business” (Kearney). Sy & Cote state that matrix management is intricately connected with the emotional intelligence of the organization and its employees. Given that the modern matrix calls for unity among employees and departments in the realization of organizational goals, matrix performance may also lead the organization as a whole to increase its emotional intelligence. Provided that the matrix is managed properly and the upper management is sufficiently involved in its maintenance, an increase in emotional intelligence would also support the organization in connecting better with its customers and other stakeholders (Sy & Cote).
Kilmann (1985) writes that almost all employees would initially have a problem connecting with the entire organization or many departments in a matrix. Nevertheless, training would help employees increase their emotional intelligence (Caruso et al., 2002). Seeing as the modern discipline of organizational development also calls for unity within the organization so as to allow all employees to participate in the entire organizational process, training required for the matrix is extremely important.
The Implementation Process: A Case Study
The Bureau of Engineering, City of Los Angeles, after identifying its need for the matrix organizational structure, was able to implement it successfully. There were several issues that the organization had to address before the organization was able to experience an improvement, especially in its project delivery (Kuprenas, 2003).
Research has revealed that successful implementation of the matrix organizational structure may present difficulties in all forms of organizations. Hence, the Bureau of Engineering found solutions to the problems of implementation of the matrix structure through an evidence-based analysis (Kuprenas). Next, we describe some of the problems in addition to solutions identified by the Bureau of Engineering.
As mentioned previously, the matrix structure may confuse organizational members with respect to their roles and new responsibilities within the organization. This problem is quite common (Kuehn et al., 1996). Kuprenas describes how the Bureau of Engineering was able to overcome this obstacle to successful implementation of the matrix structure:
The solution to the problem was creation of written roles and responsibilities for both
project and functional managers. A first attempt to create a comprehensive list of all tasks for
both types of managers resulted in perhaps more confusion than assistance, as hundreds of
tasks were identified and literally thousands of more specific duties could certainly have been
identified for either position. A simpler and much more effective solution to the confusion
and conflict was the compilation of a list of ten fundamental tasks for each position… All
parties understood that these lists were by no means all-inclusive; rather they provided a
foundation for each party’s responsibilities. After the publication of these simple lists and 1
month of learning, the manifestations of confusion over roles and responsibilities reduced to
practically zero with the managers having taught themselves who was to perform what
specific tasks, often times with much compromise depending upon individual workloads. (p.
System of Reporting
Seeing that the matrix structure changes the system of reporting within the organization, the Bureau of Engineering identified the need for a system of reporting that would allow the organization to monitor the commitments of its functional managers (Kuprenas). The organization resolved this issue through the creation of a “Project Management Control System” that allows it to monitor as well as control all of its projects (Kuprenas, p. 56). Reports of the performances of various projects are also easily accessible through this new system. Moreover, the system has been designed to the track the progress of all teams working under functional managers. The tracking is reported at the levels of the project manager, functional manager, in addition to the program manager. This permits the project manager to ensure from the commencement of a project that roles, expectations and responsibilities have been established through formal agreements in which the functional managers of the organization commit to project budgets, scope, and schedules for the various components of project delivery (Kuprenas).
Research has shown that another problem related to the matrix organizational structure is the fact of negative organizational politics used by functional managers whilst allocating resources for different projects (Pitagorsky, 1998). The Bureau of Engineering had experienced problems of this nature even before the implementation of the matrix organizational structure (Kuprenas). Kuprenas describes the process by which the organization was able to overcome the problem:
Upon the shift to a matrix structure, the Bureau created, published and began use of a
formal project prioritization process under the signature of the City Engineer. The process
assigns each project within the Bureau a specific rank. Without Program Manager approval
(in essence re-prioritization), no work is to be done on a lower rank project until the higher
rank project is complete. Project templates Handshake Agreements are still used to establish
functional team performance measures, but politicization of the team effort by the functional
manager is eliminated by the new prioritization protocol. (p. 56-59)
Training in Skills
The myriad interfaces in the matrix organizational structure call for employees to develop strong communication skills in addition to the ability to effectively work in teams (El-Najdawi & Liberatore, 1997). The Bureau of Engineering managed organizational change by immediately beginning the training of its staff. All people were trained in coping with the organizational shift, communication, in addition to working as part of teams (Kuprenas).
Project Manager Mentoring
Research has further revealed that a successful matrix organizational structure requires development programs that are specific to project managers. These training or development programs allow for project managers to develop a common understanding and language of the processes of management (Johns, 1999). Thus, the Bureau of Engineering used a development program that had been prescribed by research literature on matrix organizational structures – mentoring. Among other benefits, this program allowed new project managers of the organization to receive support and direction in the performance of their tasks (Kuprenas).
The matrix organizational structure may increase the power of functional managers relative to project managers. If this happens, functional managers may lose “project level focus” (Kuprenas, p. 60). At the Bureau of Engineering, a number of functional managers were of the opinion that nothing had changed seeing as they continued to have supervisory authority over their staff. Thus, the organization had to resolve this issue by formalizing an “annual project planning process” (Kuprenas, p. 60).
Most of the problems related to the implementation of the matrix organizational structure concern training as well as changes in responsibilities. At the same time, however, it is a recognizable fact that the support of organizational members is crucial in the implementation of the matrix structure. Hence, the organization is required to take into consideration the needs of its employees in the light of its own mission while implementing the matrix structure.
Employees need to be clear about their new responsibilities and roles within the matrix organizational structure. Thus, the creation of summarized lists of new responsibilities and roles for the project and functional managers should be considered a necessity. The matrix structure further calls for the creation of new reporting systems within the organization. For the new reporting system to work effectively, the organization should develop a central control system of project management. This control system should include formal agreements between managers about current projects.
In order to prevent negative politics from delaying the completion of important projects, the organization should develop a protocol for the prioritization of projects. In addition, as part of the implementation of the matrix structure, the organization should train its employees to cope with organizational change; help other organizational members with change; effectively communicate; and work in teams. Lastly, the organization should develop a project planning procedure so that all managers are clear about project delivery deadlines and expectations. More importantly, seeing that all of the above recommendations are backed by evidence-based analysis, the organization is sure to experience successful implementation of the matrix structure through them.
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