Matrix Management: Benefits and Pitfalls

Matrix management brings together managers and employees from different departments to collaborate with each other towards the accomplishment of the organizational goals. As much as it is beneficial, matrix management also has limitations. Hence, companies should understand its benefits and pitfalls before implementing this management technique.

Benefits

The following are some of the advantages of matrix management:

Effective Communication of Information

Because of the hybrid nature of the matrix structure, it enables different departments to closely work together and communicate frequently in order to solve project issues. This leads to a proficient information exchange among leaders and subordinates. Consequently, it results to developed strategies, enhanced performance and quick productivity.

Efficient Use of Resources

Resources can be used efficiently in the organization since it can be shared among functions and projects. As the communication line is more open, the valuable knowledge and highly skilled resources are easily distributed within the organization.

Increased Motivation

The matrix structure promotes democracy. And with the employees working on a team, they are motivated to perform their duties better. The opinions and expertise of the employees are brought to the table and considered by the managers before they make decisions. This leads to employee satisfaction, empowerment and improved performance.

Flexibility

Since the employees communicate with each other more frequently, decision making becomes speedy and response is adaptive. They can easily adjust with diverse situations that the company encounters.

Skills Development

Matrix employees are pooled out for work assignments, even to projects that are not necessarily in line with their skill background. With this approach to management, employees have the chance to widen their skills and expertise.

Discipline Retention

One significant advantage of matrix management is that it enables the employees to maintain their skills in functional areas while working with multidisciplinary projects. Once the project is completed and the team wraps up, the members remain sharp in their discipline technically and return to their home functions.

Pitfalls

Here are some disadvantages of matrix management:

Power Struggle

In the matrix structure, there is always tension between the functional and project manager. Although their intent is polite, their conflicting demands and competition for control over the same resources make it more difficult.

Internal Complexity

Having more than one manager, the employees might become confused to who their immediate leader is. The dual authority can lead to internal complexity and possible communication problems. Worst, employee dissatisfaction and high employee turnover.

Heightened Conflict

In any given situation where people and resources are shared across projects, there would always be competition and conflict. When these issues are prolonged, conflicts will heightened and will lead to more internal problems.

Increased Stress

For the employees, being part of a matrix structure can be stressful. Their commitment is divided among the projects and their relationship with multiple managers requires various adjustments. Increased stress can negatively affect their performance in the long run.

Excessive Overhead Expenses

Overhead administrative costs, such as salaries, increase in a matrix structure. More expenses, more burden to the organization. This is a challenge to matrix management that leaders should consider carefully.

 

These are just some of the advantages and disadvantages of matrix management. The list could go on, depending on the unique circumstances that organizations have. The key is that when you decide to implement matrix management, you should recognize how to take full advantage of its benefits and understand how to lessen, if not eradicate, the pitfalls of this approach to management.

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Keys to Successful Matrix Management

Matrix management, in itself, is a breakthrough concept. In fact, there are a lot of organizations today that became successful when they implemented this management technique. However, there are also organizations that started it but failed. And eventually abandoned it in the end.

Looking at these scenarios, we can say that when you implement matrix management in your organization, two things can happen – you either succeed or fail. And there’s nothing in between. The truth is, the effectiveness of matrix management lies in your hands and in your implementation. To ensure that you achieve your desired results, recognize these essential keys to successful matrix management.

Establish Performance Goals and Metrics

This should be done as soon as the team is formed, at the beginning of the year or during the process of setting organizational objectives. Whenever it is, the most important thing is that each team player understands the objectives and metrics to which their performances will be evaluated. This ensures that everyone is looking at the same set of objectives as they carry out their individual tasks.

Define Roles and Responsibilities

One pitfall of matrix management is its internal complexity. Awareness of this limitation teaches you to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the team players up front. Basically, there are three principal sets of roles that should be explained vividly – the matrix leader, matrix managers and the matrixed employees. It is important to discuss all the possible details on these roles, as well as their specific responsibilities, to keep track of each other’s participation in the projects of the organization

One effective tool to facilitate this discussion is through the RACI chart – Who is Responsible? Who is Accountable? Who should be Consulted? Who will Implement? With this, clarification of roles and responsibilities would be more efficient.

When roles are already clearly defined, each participant should review their job descriptions and key performance metrics. This is to make sure that the roles and responsibilities expected of you integrates consistently with your job in the organization, as a whole.

Manage Deadlines

In matrix management, the employees report to several managers. They will likely have multiple deadlines to attend to and accomplish. There might even be conflicts from one deadline to another. Hence, each should learn how to schedule and prioritize their tasks. Time management and action programs should be incorporated to keep the grace under pressure.

Deliver Clear Communication

Another pitfall of matrix management is heightened conflict. To avoid unrealistic expectations, the matrix leaders and managers should communicate decisions and information clearly to their subordinates, vice versa. It would help if everyone will find time to meet regularly or send timely reports on progress.

Empower Diversity

Knowledge, working styles, opinions, skills and talents are diverse in a matrix organization. Knowing this fact, each should understand, appreciate and empower the learning opportunities that this diversity presents. Trust is important. Respect to each other’s opinions is vital. And acknowledgment of differing viewpoints is crucial.

The impetus of matrix management is the same – mobilize the organization’s resources and skills to cope with the fast-paced changes in the environment. So, maximize the benefits of matrix management as you consider these essential keys to its successful implementation.

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Implementing Matrix Management

Matrix management is a culture change. More than the hierarchical structures, lines of responsibilities, modes of communication and channels of decision-making, it is a concept that needs to be planned ahead and managed appropriately over time.

Implementing matrix management to any organization can be confusing. It is essential to ensure that it fits right to your business strategies, skills and competencies. With this, realizing matrix management should not be taken lightly. Careful stages should be considered, instead.

Here are the steps to proper implementation of matrix management:

Consider Your Business Context

You need to evaluate your organization to analyze what are your development needs with regards to skills, products, services and market environment. This will help you decide on what type of matrix structure you will apply in your organization. Consider the following questions in building up your context:

  • What is our strategy?
  • Where are the demands in our business?
  • What are the structures that our competitors currently employ?
  • What are the talents that my people possess?
  • What are other business organizations doing?

Set Your Implementation Scope

Next, you need to define the parameter and set the scope of your implementation. What area in your business do you think matrix management will successfully work? There are several things that you need to consider in setting your scope. You have to make sure that it works well with your overall business strategies, that it can be excellently communicated and easily understood. Also, you must ensure that you acquire the necessary talents and skills in the business to deliver the new system of responsibilities.

Implement the New Structure

When you have already decided what structure type you will implement, you are ready to give it a go. You will need to establish new communication channels so you can monitor the progress and receive feedback effectively.

Here’s how to apply the matrix structure:

  • Highlight your development needs
  • Define roles based on outputs and not inputs
  • Line up procedures and systems to support the structure and the behavior that comes with it.
  • Invest in training and development
  • Support the key people in the structure by coaching them to better adapt in changes
  • Communicate regularly
  • Monitor progress and make necessary adjustments

Review the Matrix Structure, Roles and Responsibilities

Organizations that successfully implement matrix management adapt to the changes in their environment. With this, they do regular evaluations to highlight the need for changes and revisions. The review can either focus on the structure only or to the entire process as a whole. The results can alter the structure, the roles involved and the responsibilities taken.

The process of implementing matrix management follows a step-by step method. Each stage is equally important with the rest. Hence, if you plan to exploit it in your organization, you have to recognize the purpose of each step and follow it appropriately. Balance is the key. And when you achieve stability in matrix management, amidst the complex changes in the world of business, then your organizational success is just around the corner.

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Introduction to Matrix Management

A leader is responsible to empower his people and get the best out of them. Yet an organizational structure can either help or hamper performance. Worst, it can make or break success.

Looking at the fast-changing world of the global economy, whatsoever slows up and obstructs decision-making is a challenge. Hierarchical management is rather unattractive and functional silos are unlikable. Instead, employees desire to create teams equipped with flexibility, cooperation and coordination.

Recognizing that companies have both vertical and horizontal chains of command, the matrix model is created. The concept of this principle lies in the ability to manage the collaboration of people across various functions and achieve strategic objectives through key projects.

Consider this scenario:

Ian is a sales executive of a company. His role is to sell a new product under the supervision of a product manager. The manager is expert about the product and she is accountable to coordinate the people across the organization, making sure the product is achieved.

Moreover, Ian also reports to the sales manager who oversees his overall performance, monitors his pay and benefits and guides his personal development.

Complicated it may seem but this set-up is common to companies that seek to maximize the effect of expert product managers, without compromising the function of the staffing overhead in control of the organization. This is a successful approach to management known as Matrix Management.

Matrix Management Defined

Matrix management is a type of organizational management wherein employees of similar skills are shared for work assignments. Simply stated, it is a structure in which the workforce reports to multiple managers of different roles.

For example, a team of engineers work under the supervision of their department head, which is the engineering manager. However, the same people from the engineering department may be assigned to other projects where they report to the project manager. Thus, while working on a designated project, each engineer has to work under various managers to accomplish the job.

Historical Background

Although some critics say that matrix management was first adopted in the Second World War, its origins can be traced more reliably to the US space programme of the 1960s when President Kennedy has drawn his vision of putting a man on the moon. In order to accomplish the objective, NASA revolutionized its approach on the project leading to the consequent birth of “matrix organisation”. This strategic method facilitated the energy, creativity and decision-making to triumph the grand vision.

In the 1970s, matrix organisation received huge attention as the only new form of organisation in the twentieth century. In fact it was applied by Digital Equipment, Xerox, and Citibank. Despite its initial success, the enthusiasm of corporations with regards to matrix organisation declined in the 1980s, largely because it was complex.

Furthermore, the drive for motivating people to work creatively and flexibly has only strengthened. And by the 1990s, the evolution of matrix management geared towards creation and empowerment of virtual teams that focused on customer service and speedy delivery.

Although all forms of matrix has loopholes and flaws, research says that until today, matrix management is still the leading approach used by companies to achieve organizational goals.

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Benefits Realisation Frameworks – A Useful Handle

One of the greatest challenges of project management is maintaining top-down support in the face of fluctuating priorities. If you elect to take on the role yourself and are peppered by other priorities, it can be a challenge to exactly remember why you are changing things and what your goals are. Sometimes you may not even notice you have reached your goal.

The Benefits Realisation Chartroom

The Benefits Realisation Model is a framework on which to hang key elements of any project. These traditionally include the following, although yours may not necessarily be the same:

  • Definition of the project goal
  • Quantification of intended benefits
  • Project plan versus actual progress
  • How you know you reached your goal
  • Quantification of actual benefits

Another way of describing Benefits Realisation Frameworks is they answer four fundamental questions that every project manager should know by heart:

  • What am I going to do?
  • How am I going to do it?
  • When will I know it’s done?
  • What exactly did I achieve?

The Benefits Realisation Promise

An astounding number of projects fail to reach completion, or miss their targets. It’s not for nothing that the expression ‘after the project failed the non-participants were awarded medals’ is often used in project rooms. We’re not saying that it is a panacea for success. However it can alert you to warnings that your project is beginning to falter in terms of delivering the over-arching benefits that justify the effort.

When Projects Wander Off-Target

Pinning blame on participants is pointless when project goals are flawed. For example, the goals may be entirely savings-focussed and not follow through on what to do with the windfall. At other times realisation targets may be in place, but nobody appointed to recycle the benefits back into the organization. This is why a Benefits Realisation Framework needs to look beyond the project manager’s role.

Realisation Management in Practice

If the project framework does not look beyond the project manager’s role, then it is over when it reaches its own targets – and can even run the risk of being an event that feeds entirely off itself. In order to avoid a project being a means to its own end, this first phase must culminate with handover to a benefits realisation custodian.

An example of this might be a project to centralise facilities that is justified in terms of labour savings. The project manager’s job is to build the structure. Someone else needs to rationalise the organization.

In conclusion, the Benefits Realisation Framework is a useful way of ensuring a project does not only achieve its internal goals, but also remains a focus of management attention because of its extended, tangible benefits.

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A Business Case for Sharing

Group of business people.Business people sharing their new ideas.

We blogged about sharing services in a decentralised business context recently, and explained why we think why these should be IT-Based for speedy delivery. This is not to say that all shared services projects worldwide have been resounding successes. This is often down to the lack of a solid business case up front. We decided to lay out the logic behind this process.

Management Overview – The overview includes a clear definition of why the current situation is unacceptable, the anticipated benefits of sharing, and an implementation plan were it to go ahead. The project should not proceed until the stakeholders have considered and agreed on this.

Alternatives Considered – The next stage is to get closer to the other options in order to determine whether an alternative might perhaps be preferable. Substitutes for shared services are often doing nothing, improving the current method, and outsourcing the service to a third party.

The Bottom Line in Business – Sharing services comes at an initial cost of infrastructure changes, and the impact on human capital (the latter deserves its own blog). The following need careful consideration from the financial angle:

Numbers to Work Through

  • Manpower to design and roll the project out in parallel with the existing organisation.
  • Capital for creating facilities at the central point including civil works, furniture and equipment and IT infrastructure.
  • The costs of travel, feeding and accommodation. These can be significant depending on the time that implementation takes.
  • The opportunity loss of diverting key staff – and the cost of temporary replacements – if appointing line staff to the project team.
  • Crystal-clear project metrics including (a) the direct, realisable savings (b) the medium and long-term effects on profit and (c) where to deploy the savings

Risk Management

Shared services projects don’t go equally smoothly, although planning should reduce the risk to manageable levels. Nonetheless it is important to imagine potential snags, decide how to mitigate them and what the cost might be.

We believe in implementing shared services on a pilot basis in the business unit that eventually provides them. We recommend building these out to other branches only when new processes are working smoothly.

Moving On From a Decision

We recommend you revisit your management overview, the logic behind it, the assumptions you made, and the costs and benefits you envisage before deciding to go ahead

The final step in proving a business case is doable should be fleshing out your roadmap into a detailed operations plan with dependencies on a spreadsheet.

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Shared Services – Are They A Good Idea

Things happen fast in business and we need to stay on top. It does not seem long ago that some enterprises were still hands-on traders or artisans with a few youngsters to help out. Folk like that did not do admin and their accounting was a matter of making sure there was enough money in the jar.

When Wal-Mart’s Sam Walton took over his first shop in 1945 things had moved on from there, although he did still deal directly with his customers. When he died his legacy was 380,000 jobs, and a business larger than most economies. So there’s plenty we can learn from how he grew his business.

One of Sam’s secrets was his capacity to centralise what needed gathering together, while empowering store managers to think independently when it came to local conditions. His regional warehouses had individual outlets clustered around them within one day’s drive each. This shared service eliminated 90% of safety stock and released capital for expansion.

Wal-Mart took sharing services a step further in February 2006, when it centralised accounts payable, accounts receivable, general accounting and human resources administration at Wal-Mart Stores and Sam’s Clubs in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The objective was to bring costs down, while allowing local managers more time to focus on their business plans and other initiatives. As a further spin-off, Wal-Mart was able to integrate its data on a single SAP platform and eliminate significant roadblocks.

This is an excellent example of sharing services by creating own centres of excellence.  Of course, this is not the only business possibility. Other corporates have successfully completely outsourced their support activities, and Wal-Mart has no doubt had a variety of similar offers too. But, is the Wal-Mart picture entirely rosy, or is there a catch?

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants has indicated that top talent may be the loser globally. This is because the Wal-Mart model removes many challenges through standardization, and offers less scope for internal promotion as a result. Language and cultural differences may also have a long-term detrimental effect on the way the departments work well together.

Local outsourcing – this is the business model where several firms engage a shared service provider independently- may hence prove to be a more malleable option for smaller companies. It often makes more sense to hunt down made-to-order services. Offerings such as the professional support we offer on this site: contact us.

Are Target Operating Models Strategic Compasses

The short answer is they usually are, because every organization needs a roadmap of where they are going. Target operating models can be complex documents with illustrative details including project management structures, special tools, implementation procedures and management metrics. They can also be simple statements, as for example Winston Churchill’s promise that “we shall fight them on the beaches, on the landing grounds and in the fields” which gave Britain the strategic direction it needed.

Many initiatives unfortunately fail because managers are ‘too busy’ to bottom on what their target operating model should say, or simply don’t believe in paperwork. As a result, promising initiatives may blunder off course or die a slow death without them really noticing. We cannot manage what we cannot measure, which is where the management metrics fit in. One of my favourite quotes is ‘if you don’t know where you are going any road will get you there’ which is what the Cheshire Cat said to Alice in Wonderland when she got lost.

The author blundered through life without a plan because there was no one else with his particular brand of imagination. The current business climate is different because everybody is trying to ramp up, and investors want to know exactly what is going to happen to their money and by when. Hence a target operating model can be indispensable throughout a change or product cycle.

The benefits of having a measurable operations / technology plan can produce powerfully tangible results if the organization follows through on it. Built-in metrics with milestones are powerful tool for management, and, when they map through to the company financial plan almost irreplaceable as cash-flow forecasters. Other benefits may include:

  • Shorter times to market and greater agility when launching new ideas
  • Reduced investor risk through a predictable process that’s readily monitored
  • A stable operating environment where there is consensus on direction
  • Greater likelihood of delivering on time and leading to repeat orders
  • A more cost-effective process, with less risk of loss of quality and money

Although it dates back a few years the Wills UK and Ireland Retail model still provides an excellent benchmark of a target operating plan that worked. The strategic goals were exceptionally clear, and they brought in a proven project manager to help them drive the program forward

We have delivered advanced business management services to many of our clients, and believe you will find our personalised approach time-efficient and effective too. Feel free to: contact us.