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Matrix Model

The matrix model—notwithstanding its attempt to promote flexibility— is a derivative of the functional design. It’s supposed to be a lithe working arrangement with negotiated task alignment between project team leaders and functional managers. In project management jargon, this is known as the “project-functional interface.” Projects by their nature are horizontal because they need an assortment of skills and capabilities traversing functional boundaries. The project dimension of the matrix model attempts to redress the central weakness of the functional model.

Figure 7.2 illustrates the simple composition of the matrix model.

The four functions, as you can see in Fig. 7.2, support specialization. But overlayed on these functions is a horizontal dimension consisting of a series of projects; in this illustration there are four projects. This additional dimension supposedly improves horizontal communication channels so that the organization can perform more flexibly and responsively.

Matrix model

Fig. 7.2 Matrix model

In practice, this isn’t always smooth sailing. As Daniel Seet points out in his article, ‘Power: The Functional Manager’s Meat and Project Manager’s Poison?’:

On paper, the dichotomy between these two entities is supportive of one another. While the project manager is concerned with what is to be done, the functional manager thinks about how the task will be done. The project manager wonders about when to do it, but the functional manager looks at where the job will be. The project manager looks at how well the whole job is completed whereas the functional manager looks at how well his own aspect has been integrated into the project. Each has different, but complementary, concerns.3

The reality, however, is often different. I witness frequent cases of divided loyalties, where the employee has to answer to two bosses: the project manager and their functional manager. This can degenerate into a tussle for power and territory. More often, it plays out this way: While the project manager contemplates who they can select from the functional departments to populate their team, the functional manager asks why they should release their talent, if it only benefits the project manager. The essence of the problem is that while the project manager has their own delegated authority, they don’t have the same formal authority as the functional manager.

Under these conditions, functional managers flex their muscles; they’ve greater bargaining power over staffing arrangements. The lack of formal authority puts project managers at a disadvantage from the get-go. Matrix structures—or at least the managers involved—have failed to eliminate the dominance of the functional-based work arrangement.

 
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