Monday, January 4, 2010

Do Matrix Organization Foster Bad Behaviors?

Matrix organizations deliberately creates a power struggle between project managers (PM) and resource managers (RM) causing the whole system to be dynamically unstable. In other words, energy in the form of conflict resolution must be spent to keep the organization stable and working efficiently towards business goals.

There are three major types of matrix organizations: balanced, weak and strong, which are defined by the PM role in projects.

In a weak matrix, the PM is responsible for coordinating the tasks, not for actually delivering them. Their role is to be the liaison between multiple RMs delivering work.

As a result of the RMs managing all the work, PMs have less control over the project and work unrelated to the project might get done without business approval.

In a strong matrix the PM and the resources assigned to the project work closer together, and the PM is accountable for the delivery of the project. The RMs are responsible for human resource tasks like hiring, training, and so on.

This organizational type promotes a healthier alignment of resources to business goals to the detriment of technical tasks that might not have clear upfront business value defined (healthy refactoring for example). The team is concerned with the success of the project and not the long term health of the system/product.

To address this issue, sometimes purely technical structures are created. Architecture Review Boards get formed to make sure that systems are being designed properly for example.

Balanced matrixes are the ideal where the power is perfectly shared between PMs and RMs, little direction is provided though on how to achieve it. It seems to rely on interpersonal skills of RMs and PMs.

The saying “absolute power results in absolute corruption” does not apply when the interests and the power are perfectly aligned. In other words, when the person responsible for the business success of ventures has absolute power to make decisions on its behalf the corruption is good for that venture.

In matrix organizations, the power struggle is often between well intended technical individuals (PMs and RMs) trying to best serve the business. When there’s a clear business owner that yields strong power, conflicts are cleared and addressed quickly in a way that best benefit the overall venture.

I should be clear though that conflicts and struggles might not happen only between PM and RMs, but amongst the multiple RMs as well and that this is not the norm necessarily.

Concluding, a matrix organization requires energy to resolve conflicts, without a clear mechanism to resolve them, the organization might regress into outright bickering.