Complex projects and siloed departments? It’s difficult to adapt project management to the level of agility required of businesses today. Especially, if you’ve been doing things the same way for years. You might think you have it all under control, but your employees might think otherwise.
The JCURV 2022 ‘State of Agile Culture’ Report found that 72% of surveyed leaders felt they were effective Agile leaders, but only 56% of C-suite and 34% of delivery team members agreed.
If it’s time to shake up your leadership approach, look no further than the matrixed organization.
What is a matrix organization?
A matrixed organization is a business structured differently than the traditional management hierarchy. Instead of having one manager, employees report to multiple managers simultaneously: their usual functional manager, such as the Head of Marketing, and the manager of the project they are working on. As your project team changes assignments, so does the person managing the project (and who project team members report to).
The main objective of this type of hierarchical organizational structure type is that it helps team members work on multiple tasks, like a graphic designer creating images for websites. But they do this across various departments (at the same time).
For example, your graphic designer could create social media images for the marketing department while laying out a customer product guide for the product team.
Your staff gets to do what they do best while working on a broad range of projects. This makes their day-to-day work more interesting. It also helps with knowledge-sharing in your business. No more siloed skills! All teams and departments can benefit from the skill sets and abilities of others.
Take a look at this matrix organizational structure example:
You'll see that this isn't your everyday hierarchical structure chart. Functional units have department managers that employees report to. But, as the horizontal flow shows, they also have multiple project managers (Project Managers A and B).
Employees could report to multiple project managers and their department heads, depending on which projects they are working on.
You might already be thinking that this could be confusing for employees. And you'd be right. After all, who gets the final say if an issue arises? Well, that depends on the matrix management approach you use in your business.
Considerations for matrix management
Matrix hierarchies aren't a one-size-fits-all solution. There are multiple matrix management approaches that you can adapt to fit your business. But, first, let's take a look at some factors that you should consider before going down the matrixed path.
What factors should you consider when choosing a structure for your business?
When it comes to understanding different matrix environments for your business, it’s important to think about a few key factors that can help you make the right choice.
What is the size of your business? Are you a small agency or an enterprise-level company? This matters because different matrix environments work better for different-sized businesses.
What are your business goals? What are you trying to achieve? Your strategic and project goals will impact how you structure your projects, as well as how you structure your management.
How many and how big are your projects? Certain matrix types might fit you better than others if you have many projects of varying sizes. For example, if your team is working on complex internal projects to drive revenue, you should be more involved than in the weekly management of your social media channels.
Do you have a team with diverse expertise that other functional departments could benefit from? Or do they have highly specialized skills in specific niche areas? This will also help you assign managerial roles and responsibilities. Depending on how these teams will be structured can impact which environment type you choose. For example, if your project teams are highly specialized, they may need leaders with a very specific area of knowledge, whereas any project manager can oversee more generalized skills.
How does your team communicate? Assess how much communication your teams need. Some matrix setups will require constant interaction, while others might need a communication plan.
Your level of involvement matters, too. How much control you want over projects is critical to choosing your matrix level.
What are the key differences between the five matrix structures?
What sets these functional structures apart is, essentially, all about the chain of command. Or, put another way, the degree of control that a functional manager, and even you as the business owner, have over task outcomes vs. how much is given to the project manager.
What sets these functional structures apart is the degree of control that a functional manager, or business owner, has over task outcomes vs. how much is given to the person managing the project.
With this balance of control in mind, let’s look at each structure in more detail.
The 5 matrix environment structures
Weak, strong, or balanced. There is a matrix environment mix that’ll work for you.
Weak matrix structure
In the weak matrix structure type, functional managers continue to manage as usual with the help of project managers.
Suppose you're a smaller business, and this functional manager is you. In that case, you'll keep control over day-to-day operations and project delivery with the help of your project managers.
If you were to closely review how management flows in your business, you might be surprised to find that your business already operates in this way. The weak matrix structure can come about naturally because of how you deliver projects.
Balanced matrix structure
As a middle point between weak and strong, the balanced matrix approach is about (you guessed it) balance.
Both functional and project managers have equal authority. As a business owner, you balance these two roles to find a happy medium where you (or your functional managers) can focus on organizational goals with the support of project managers but can step into project delivery when needed.
Strong matrix structure
As the name suggests, the strong structure is the opposite of the weak approach. Project managers have more control and bear the burden of project outcomes. Functional managers play a supporting role, providing knowledge and oversight as needed.
As a business owner, if you're currently overwhelmed trying to manage all of your client projects and run your business, you'll probably notice the biggest difference if you adopt this style. You oversee project success while maintaining overall strategic direction but are less involved in the day-to-day project delivery.
The strong matrix structure might be harder to begin with. It's a complete restructure of how you do business and will require practice. Plus, taking a big step back could be quite a shock if you've had your hand in every project your business has produced.
Composite matrix structure
This approach combines elements from the different matrix types.
Different projects might have varied levels of authority, allowing you (the owner) to adapt the structure to fit your business's needs This will let you leverage your level of control up and down as needed.
Projectized (pure project) matrix structure
In this structure, project managers have full authority. Department heads have limited oversight.
This can work well for specific projects but might reduce your overall control and would be a struggle to implement in a small business where clients expect the owner to be involved.
Advantages vs. disadvantages of a matrix organization structure
As with anything in business, adopting the matrix hierarchy over a more traditional approach comes with its own pros and cons. Here are just some of the benefits and challenges:
- Optimal resource use: No over or underutilization of human resources as teams work on both small projects and broader organizational goals.
- Flexibility to suit your business needs: With multiple versions of the approach, there’s a version to suit you.
- Better collaboration: Teams get to work across departments to achieve project goals.
- Skill growth within your team: Staff get access to information and skills usually siloed in one department.
- More effective project management: No one manager is required to manage all projects. Having a second set of eyes to manage team workloads and manage individuals keeps micromanaging at bay.
- Workload balance between team members and leadership.
- Confusion: When taking direction from two chains of command, it can get confusing if the project lead and functional manager aren’t on the same page.
- Power struggles: If it’s not clear who is in charge or if leadership styles clash, there can be challenges with managers not getting on or fighting among themselves. This not only overwhelms staff but slows down project progress.
- Communication overload: Depending on the leadership styles of your managers, your staff could be overloaded with too much information. It might also not be clear which manager is to provide clarity.
How to decide if a matrixed approach is for you
Whether you own a marketing agency in California or an accounting firm in Maryland, there’s a matrixed approach for you. But how can you be sure it’s right for you? There are two more factors that might help you choose:
You’re a project-centered industry:
Like a marketing agency, construction company, software development, or consulting firm. A matrix organizational structure can allow project teams in these types of companies to focus on their projects while remaining in line with the broader organizational objectives.
Your operations are geographically dispersed:
Suppose your company has operations or teams in different locations or countries. In that case, a matrix organization can help ensure that each region's needs are managed while keeping everyone on track with the broader company vision.
For instance, a global retail chain might use matrix management to adapt to local market and geographic trends, but still stay true to a global brand and its guidelines (with effective communication). This can also be true of remote teams in an agency environment. If you have project managers in the same locations or time zones as your teams, giving them more control might make sense to keep each region on track.
How to optimize your matrix environment with project management software
Changing your management structure doesn't have to be stressful. If you use project management software while you overhaul your processes, you can simplify things for everyone. Here's how:
Clear task tracking
Motion keeps track of your tasks and who is responsible for them in one easy visual.
Because tasks are tracked in a central location, project leads and line managers have the same oversight. This reduces confusion about what team members are working on because everyone knows their roles and how to find what they need to complete their work.
Motion displays project timelines in Kanban and list views so your team can choose the most productive layout for them. This leads to better coordination across teams and helps with task prioritization.
Better resource management
In matrix environments, it can be easy to overload staff, taking direction from project leads and their managers.
Because resource management is visually tracked alongside projects, it's easy for everyone to see (and be alerted) when team members are overloaded. Conversely, when project teams are underutilized, high-priority tasks can be brought forward - a benefit of having resource and project management working together.
All project-related data is stored in one place, making it easy to access for all team members and managers.
Integrations with other tools mean that multiple people can manage projects in one secure location. Take a look at how Motion manages security here.
Automated recurring tasks
Trying to keep track of all tasks and projects can get overwhelming, especially if some of these tasks or meetings happen every day or every week.
Use Motion's automation to auto-schedule recurring tasks and meetings to save time and avoid confusion about availability. This is especially helpful for keeping team members across their daily to-dos when taking direction from a project lead and a manager (even more so if your team isn't in one location or the same time zone).
Motion builds your team member's day automatically with priorities and the idea of deep work in mind. Your team knows exactly what to work on as soon as they log in (and you know that deadlines are being met).
Matrix environments and Motion
Siloed departments and knowledge gatekeeping are things of the past.
It's time to embrace a more dynamic approach to your organizational hierarchy so you can build more agile leaders and more fulfilled, upskilled team members.
And you don't have to do it alone. With its AI-driven automation and smart scheduling, Motion is your partner in establishing the matrix structure that works for you and your business.