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What is the (strong) matrix?

One of the more effective, but often complex, types of organizational structures is that of a strong matrix design. According to the project management lexicon, a strong matrix organization is “a type of matrix organization where the project manager has moderate to high authority and in most cases is in a full-time role. The project manager has more control over the budget and resources compared to a functional manager and PMO is generally staffed full-time.”

Matrix Meme

Simply put, the strong matrix takes the traditional matrix driven organization and puts even greater authority in the hands of a project manager. You often see this type of structure in consulting companies, I.T. organizations or project engineering firms. It is (often) a very effective way of leading project teams to accomplish desired organizational goals of on time delivery, improved quality, revenue and gross profit/cash flow targets. It is also an effective structure for providing career development for staff in organizations that are either traditionally flat (due to smaller size) or for those that want technical staff to be able to develop their career without having to pursue a position in management.

As a writer and HR Pro, I am neither pro nor con when it comes to an opinion of the strong matrix structure. I believe in the right environment, with the right organization and the right leadership, it can be a highly successful structure. However, in my experience, it either works (or it doesn’t) based on one key factor. That factor is TRUST. Simply put, in order for various functional heads to work together and have their people operating under different project managers but still report (competency and career-wise) back to the functional head, you have to have a lot of trust. Department heads have to trust that the structure exists to support the broader organizational goals. They have to trust in each other that everyone understands and is working towards accomplishing these broader organizational goals. Above all else, in order to instill this trust, organizational leadership has to provide the vision. They have to clearly articulate the organizational vision and goals and then trust their managers to execute on these goals within the construct of the strong matrix.

In more typical, hierarchical driven organizations, trust is important to organizational success and health; however, individual departments can still function together and deliver with only limited amounts of trust. In the strong matrix organization, because of the various touch points on employees and (on the surface) competing priority demands, trust is key. Project managers need to trust that line managers are developing their people and providing them with the best resources. Line managers need to trust that Project Managers are effectively deploying their staff so as to best maximize their knowledge, skills and abilities.

Remember, the line managers are on the hook (or should be) for staff retention, project managers are on the hook for effective, on time project delivery. The challenge, is trusting that all these seemingly competing demands come together to realize the greater organizational goals. Trust – it is the single greatest currency in the strong matrix driven organization. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

 

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