Q: Explain five difficulties a project manager may experience when working in a matrix organisation and give examples of how these can be overcome?
Difficulties which a project manager may experience in a matrix organisation include:
1. A conflict of priorities with line management.
Staff are naturally more likely to focus on work priorities as defined by their line manager. This could result in a lack of focus and hence progress on project tasks, with a risk that project milestones are not met. The project manager could mitigate this risk by agreeing priorities, decision making and resource requirements with functional line managers upfront and sharing this with staff at the start of the project. If conflicts continue the project manager will need to meet with functional line managers and use their influencing skills to help reach an agreeable resolution.
2. Motivation of the project team.
Project team members in a matrix organisation may become stressed due to the additional workload of managing their project work alongside their day job. This could impact their motivation and have a knock on impact to the successful delivery of the project. The project manager should ensure that all project meetings are purposeful and do not waste valuable time. They could also review workload with the individual to see if additional training could help make tasks more efficient or if additional administrative support could help share the workload burden, budget permitting.
3. Team development.
In a matrix organisation, as staff may join and leave the project team throughout its life cycle, it can be more difficult for the project manager to develop a strong, cohesive and therefore effective and productive project team. The project manager can end up spending more time on resolving personnel issues than project execution. Communication can help alleviate this, in particular creating and sharing an organisational breakdown structure and RACI matrix with staff so that they are clear on both their own and the team’s role, responsibiilities, terms of reference and goals. Taking the team out for a team drink or lunch can help speed up team development too.
4. Limited knowledge regarding resources.
The project manager may not have knowledge or visibility of the available resources and capabilities across the organisation. This may make the task of team selection more difficult. To overcome this the project manager should pro-actively network with functional line managers to help identify potential resources within functional teams.
5. Relationship with Project Sponsor.
The project sponsor may not be the project manager’s functional line manager and therefore they may have little or no previous working relationship. The relationship and trust between the project sponsor and project manager are vital to the success of the project. The project manager should pro-actively invest time and effort in building this relationship and this is best done through regular face to face contact.
Q: Explain the concept of a matrix organisation and describe four advantages of such an approach?
The concept of a matrix organisation refers to the structure whereby employees report directly to their line manager in the first instance i.e. head of finance, marketing but in addition to this, staff members may also work for the project managers as and when the organisation’s current projects require it.
Four advantages of this approach are:
1. An advantage of this type of organisational structure is the skill retention made possible. Usually, say in a project organisation, once the project is completed the project team is no longer needed and so dissolves, thus losing vital skills and knowledge. In a matrix organisation, people and skills are retained even when they may not be working in a project environment.
2. Another benefit of a matrix organisation is the greater utilisation of resources. Whilst a functional organisation may see periods where staff are under utilised, a matrix organisation can clearly see staff availability and can use staff on projects should they become available. This greater flexibility allows more efficient use of resources across the business.
3. A matrix organisation also provides the ability to motivate staff in more challenging ways. In a functional organisation there is a very structured career progression in the specialist functions however this can be slow quite restrictive. In a matrix organisation staff who are periodically used on project work will feel a greater sense of worth and contribution to the business activities as a whole, because of a wide range of opportunities.Some people prefer the structured nature of a functional organisation for career progression; it is less clear what the career path is in a matrix.
4. Project managers have an authority in a matrix organisation. The organisation recognises that the project manager needs to direct others and utilise specialist skills from within different parts of the organisation when required. The organisation can support the project manager in this task and are familiar with the requirements.