Matrix Management

Strong, project, horizontal or balanced matrix?

In our last post on matrix organizations structures, we looked at the vertical or functional matrix. In this post we will focus first on the other extreme, the strong matrix or project matrix organization structure. Then we will consider the balanced matrix form in the middle,

The strong matrix or project matrix organization structure

In the strong matrix or project matrix organization structure, the project manager has most of the power, resources and control over the work. The functional manager is there to add support, technical expertise, look after HR issues etc…

Project managers in a strong matrix often have a separate reporting line to a project office or project management structure.

The strong or project matrix is, for obvious reasons, beloved of project mangers (but not functional managers) Solid line reporting is to the project matrix manager, dotted line to the functional matrix manager.

However, for matrix organizations generally (as distinct from in project management practice alone), I am not happy with the term strong or even project.

The things that drive horizontal activity across the traditional vertical silos of the functions are not always projects. It could be an enduring piece of horizontal activity, a workflow or business process for example or a customer driven organization that permanently works across functions and geographies.

Because we see a lot of different drivers of lateral or horizontal activity in matrix organizations (technology, product group, customer groups, projects etc..) we prefer the term horizontal matrix over the terms strong or project matrix.

The Balanced Matrix

The balanced matrix is where the power is shared more equally between the vertical and horizontal legs of the matrix with respective responsibilities for people and resources carefully defined and reasonably balanced.

Whilst this may seem a reasonable “middle way” it can be uncomfortable for the people reporting in to more than one manager equally. In one of our clients there was a mini-revolt when the organization refused to answer the question “who is my real manager?” If you use this style, make sure that responsibility for critical people management issues like appraisals and pay are led by one or the other and that responsibilities are clear.

Solid line or dotted line reporting can be used to add further nuance. In general the solid line is the stronger relationship, the dotted line the weaker. Most organizations use two solid line reporting relationships to represent a balanced matrix.

What is best for your organization? Well it depends on your strategy; the choice is all about where you want the balance of power to lie. This may depend on your history, will certainly depend on your current challenges and priorities and also on the capabilities of your people.

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