The Matrix!

Risks can have origins in communications and are not the sole province of the stakeholders and sponsors of the project. Sometimes the organization damages itself via the structure.  We are all familiar with the functional organization, often referred to as a line organization or stove pipe organization in which we group the company by discipline. We have a group of test people, a group for writing software, and perhaps a group of systems engineers.  The communication channels for the organization and who is responsible for what seem reasonably clear.  Additionally, the line organization is especially suited for development of the talent within that area.  For example, testing people are grouped in a way that facilitates interactions and learning the art of verification and testing. That situation is not necessarily the case for the matrix organization.

The matrix organization exists on a continuum that ranges from weak matrix, through balanced matrix, to the strong matrix.  In the matrix organization, we have the project management and the line management coexisting in the project execution.  We do this to keep the benefits of the functional organization while meeting the cross-functional demands most projects require for success.  When we are in a balanced matrix, the project is led by a combination of the various line management and the project management functions. Our project team members end up essentially with two bosses. The other two matrices shift the control to one or the other so identifying ‘the boss” is much easier. For example, in the weak matrix, the line management has a stronger influence or level of control in the organization.  The opposite is true for the strong matrix in which the project management part of the organization has more of the authority. However, it is not easy to discern the type of organization, as structurally all of the variations of the matrix organization are approximately the same. The matrix organization is a way to meet the project demands while ensuring the available talent and material resources to meet the organization’s needs. Unfortunately, this organization type comes at a cost.

Communications can become convoluted when we have the matrix organization because we have two entities driving the project.  Our team members can find conflicting directions coming from the line management and the project management areas.  In many matrix organizations, both the line management and the project management functions perform the reviews or assess the ability of the employee as well.  We lose some speed in this organization as we must resolve the discrepancies of perspective or direction between the line organization and the project organization. We must pay especially close attention to our communications, responsibility, and escalation methods to minimize conflict and waste of time due to direction setting. Not to mention the wear and tear on our talent as we send conflicting directions to them.

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