What is a balanced matrix organization?

Matrix management organizations are difficult to manage properly. One of the difficulties in matrix management is balancing the level of authority between the functional manager and the project manager. If the project manager has too much authority, too many of the people in the functional organization will be taken from that organization and assigned improperly to the projects. If the functional manager has too much authority, the organization essentially stays a functional organization and never becomes a matrix management organization.

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If the functional manager is able to dominate the project manager, the organization will remain much as it was when it was a functional organization. The project managers will have to request work from the functional managers, and all the work will be done in the functional organization under the direction of the functional manager. The people will all receive their work assignments from the functional manager, and work will be scheduled and performance will be measured by the functional manager. The project manager will merely advise the functional manager as to what work should be done.

If the project manager is able to become more powerful than the functional manager, the project managers will take control of the functional organization by forcing all work to be done in the projects. This means that the project managers will not allow any of the project work to be done in the functional departments. If no work is being done in the functional areas, the project managers will control all the people doing the work.

In this situation the project managers also become responsible for people's other project assignments. Since the people working are all working for project managers and no one is working in the functional areas, project managers will have to meet with each other to have people assigned to do work on their projects.

Balancing the organization is really less difficult than it might seem. The most effective way is to look at the length of each person's assignments. If a person is going to be assigned to work on a project for the next four weeks, let us say, we move that person to the project team's location, and the person stays there working for the next four weeks. If a person is required to do work that is expected to take less than four weeks, the project manager writes a work authorization to the functional department, and the person works in the functional department.

Some work needs to be done in the functional department so that there is work to do in that department when people are waiting for their next project assignment. If we find that the functional department has very few people working in it, it may be that the project managers are drawing too many people into the project organization. Investigation will likely show that some of the people working on the project in the project team location are being underutilized.

Why would we want to use an unbalanced matrix organization?

During the transition from the functional organization to the matrix organization, it may be necessary to go through several interim organizations. This can be most easily done by first changing to a weak matrix organization where the functional managers retain most of their power and the project managers have very little power. As the project managers gain experience in managing work, they can be given more power. Eventually, as the project managers gain experience, they are given more power, and the functional managers are given less power until a balanced matrix organization is reached.

Some companies will go through this transition fairly quickly while others may go through it very slowly, and others will be satisfied to stop somewhere before a balanced matrix is achieved.

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One of the major problems in changing a functional organization into a matrix organization is getting there. Some executives discover matrix management and try to make the transition to it in their companies too quickly.

The problem is that when we have a functional organization, the functional managers not only take care of the administrative and training work of the people in the department they supervise, but they also make the work assignments and manage the results and performance of the people doing the work. When matrix management is used, project managers become responsible for the work assignments and for measuring the performance and progress of the work that is done by the project team.

The functional managers are the company's major assets. Most of them are senior people in the company and have much of the experience and knowledge of the company in their brains. It does not make any sense at all to lose these people for the sake of an organizational change. If we try to change to a matrix organization too quickly, this may happen. The reason is that the senior managers in the functional organization quickly realize that they will have less responsibility in the matrix organization because much of the organization's work will now be done in projects rather than in their home departments.

The transition from functional organization to matrix will take time. The existing functional managers must have time to fit into the organization in such a way that they are promoted instead of demoted. This does not happen overnight. They must not feel threatened by the organizational change or they will resist it. These managers are the major assets of the company and if they choose to resist the change, it will be a formidable resistance.

We can think of these organizations as varying from the functional type of organization to the pure project organization.

Closest to the functional organization is the weak matrix organization. In this style of organization, the project managers are not usually called project managers but something like project coordinators or expeditors, and they probably work only part of the time managing small parts of the project. Even at this low level of project management there are some advantages. There is now some focus on the customer, and there is a person who is concerned with the overall project. In this situation less than 25 percent of the personnel in the company will be assigned full-time to project work.

As we move toward more powerful project managers, we reach the balanced matrix organization that was described previously. Here the project manager manages projects full-time and has the title of project manager. In the balanced matrix organization, between 15 and 60 percent of the personnel in the company are assigned full-time to project work.

In a strong matrix organization, 50 to 90 percent of the company's personnel are assigned to project work full-time, and the project managers become more powerful than the functional managers. Program managers appear in this kind of organization and take on some of the responsibility of the functional managers as well.

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