Like many project organizations, a matrix management style is a structure where members of an organization may have a “designated” department or team they belong to, but they will also be assigned to work on various projects and report to a project manager throughout the life cycle of a project.
Therefore, employees may report to multiple “bosses” or managers while working in their role. An example of this could be an employee who works in department ‘A’ and is also assigned to project ‘X’ and ‘Y’, who each have their own project manager. So, this employee now has their own department manager to report to, as well as the project managers for the other two assigned projects.
Matrix Management Advantages
One of the major advantages of a matrix management style is that often strong channels of communication are formed among various departments within an organization. This occurs as employees who work across different areas of the organization are now exposed to each other and can share information. This also facilitates quick decision making, as information is much more easily accessible to all departments involved.
A scenario that depicts this is as follows: employees from customer support and production departments work together on a project where they collaborate closely. Down the line, production mentions a rising problem to the customer support employees in real time. Then in turn, customer support is aware of the issue, and can handle customers more effectively and express their understanding of the issue and offer solutions.
In this example, the customer support team was able to manage the situation right away due to their immediate awareness, rather than having no knowledge of the issue and waiting for a memo or announcement from a senior leader.
The matrix management style also encourages the leadership in an organization to take a more democratic style of leadership that encourages team member input more, before managers make decisions. Employees are able to provide unique insights they have gathered from their experience in working with other departments and members of the organization as well as previous knowledge working on similar types of work.
Matrix Management Disadvantages
One major disadvantage of the matrix management style is the opportunity for disagreement between managers and project managers, especially if they are directly pitted against one another or have conflicting measures of performance. This often occurs due to billing disputes, with the project managers trying to minimize cost and billing as much as they can, while the department managers are aiming to secure the budget.
Another common area of disagreement among the department managers and project managers is resource allocation and prioritization. This often stems from project managers view their project as the most important task, and disregarding the fact that employees may have other responsibilities that may take priority.
Department managers often have finite resources at their disposal and are tasked with distributing them in order to “satisfy most of the demand a majority of the time”. Additionally, they have multiple deadlines relating to both departmental matters as well as projects to which they are providing resources and time.
Projects in progress are also typically subject to change based on departmental timelines and demands, which is addressed prior to starting the project with the project manager. This may occur because of a failure to achieve progress in any area of either the project or department, resulting in the department managers having difficult decisions to make.
Department managers may have to accommodate unexpected resource needs based on project progress and employee performance. All of these factors mean that conflict will inevitably occur in organizations using the matrix management method. Conflicts may also escalate or extend in time, if employees are assigned to more than one project at a time.
Projects are mainly about using the available, existing resources and expertise as efficient as possible to accomplish organization tasks. The difficult part of this, especially for staff and employees, is that projects are not viewed as normal role demands and consequently, are not used as opportunities to develop skills.
The questions that arise from an inadequate project management structure in an organization can often be traced back to effective reporting lines. There are two option an organization can adopt to solve this problem:
- All employees working on a project remain in their normal roles and report to their department manager. The project manager works through the various department managers and has less direct interaction and collaboration with the project team members.
- Project team is created and all team members temporarily leave their departmental duties and report directly to the project manager for the project life cycle.
Using a combination of these methods is often seen as the best solution, and is the most commonly practiced method among matrix management organizations. The one drawback on this approach is that the project manager often lacks the required authority held by the departmental managers. All of these factors simply mean that unless the organization is completely project-focused, there will be times of conflict and compromise throughout a project.
Overall, the matrix management style is a widely-adopted form of management in many industries, and when used efficiently, has success.
The main factor that contributes to a successful matrix management style is collaboration and cooperation among the involved managers; department managers and project managers. While both managers are motivated by different outcomes from their employees, there is a sweet spot where all parties can accomplish their goals. This may take some adaptability and difficult decision making, however this is inevitable in management.