Matrix Management

Implementation and performance of a matrix organization structure

I recently reviewed “Implementation and performance of a matrix organization structure” by John A Kuprenas from the International Journal of Project Management.

This is a case study on the implementation of a matrix organization in the city of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering. It gives some useful tips on implementing a matrix structure and the steps they took to deal with potential and actual problems.

The move to a more horizontal style of working was driven by the need to give more power and emphasis to projects relative to the functions in the organization and to prevent major project overspends and inefficiencies.

It’s arguable whether you need a formal dual reporting system to make a project-based organization work, though it looks as though they struggled to balance the power of the functions to enable the projects to be successful.

Quite a lot of the findings are actually about successful project management rather than matrix management per se. One of their decisions was to give the program manager complete authority over all projects in his or her program. At the point at which we decide to give one leg “complete authority”, we really no longer have a matrix. This may have been necessary to counter the challenges of getting the functions aligned, which seem to have been a particular challenge in a politicized environment.

The had some interesting findings on role clarity where they initially tried to come up with detailed descriptions of responsibilities for thousands of tasks. They describe this as “resulting in perhaps more confusion than assistance.” Instead they eventually moved to a simpler list of ten fundamental tasks for each position, which seemed to work better.

This certainly mirrors our own experience, where clients have tried to conduct very detailed RACI analysis it has become very bureaucratic and quickly out of date. I make some recommendations on how to build goal and role clarity and alignment, and how to use RACI more effectively in a matrix, in my book “Making the Matrix Work”.

Unsurprisingly for an organization in the government sector, they found some quite bureaucratic means of prioritization, which I imagine lead to a lot of meetings. They focused their training, which was seen as key to success, on communication skills and an ability to work in teams. They also recognize the importance of being adaptive and comfortable with ambiguity – consistent with our own idea of the  “matrix mindset”.

This focus on communication and teams is one of our key themes. It’s very easy to overdo, and many organizations experience an increase in poor quality meetings, teamwork and communications following the implementation of the matrix. As we become more connected in a matrix, we also need to make sure that were effective and we spend a lot of time with organizations helping them simplify how they co-operate and communicate – rather than just increase the amount of it.

If you are introducing a matrix, particularly in the state sector, you might find the article useful. If you recognize these challenges in your own organization, see an interactive graphic of our matrix management learning path and module contents.

Source: “Implementation and performance of a matrix organization structure” by John A Kuprenas International Journal of Project Management . Volume 21, Issue 1, January 2003. PP 51–62.


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