The Project Notebook

Matrix Management and Seniority


I found an interesting comment posted to one of my articles over on PM Hut. The commenter suggested that matrix management was responsible for stripping seniority from people within the organization. Matrix management is simply a way of organizing people and lines of communication. A quick trip to Wikipedia provides details. There is an expanded description in the PMBOK® Guide available for download at PMI.org. There are two basic forms of matrix management, but neither were intended to disrupt seniority or other aspects of employment.

In a pure matrix organization, employees are pooled in departments (e.g Engineering, Marketing, Finance). These employees are shared among the products and projects. This is often an advantageous configuration for professional development since during “bench” time (when not assigned to a project), employees have the benefit of working on internal projects to collaborate and increase skills. The functional managers are generally responsible for enhancing the talent pool through such opportunities or even direct professional development and training.

In the weak matrix organization, the organization may appear to be mostly a functional or hierarchical organization, however there are some coordinated projects, likely not requiring a full project manager.

As you can see, there is nothing intended to address seniority, pro or con. It is true some organizations find ways to abuse the matrix organization. These abuses may include overloading project team members with cross functional projects which are not properly coordinated or perhaps laying off people rather than providing bench time professional development.

If not properly managed, the matrix environment can also add extra overhead. With added lines of communication between the functional and the product/project managers, the time to reach decisions or communicate change may increase. Some structures include a resource manager with responsibility for tracking the projects resources and expediting personnel level decision. Properly managed, the projectized, strong matrix organization can provide excellent growth and career opportunities for all.

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© 2010-2012 Ray W. Frohnhoefer, MBA, PMP, CCP