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Matrix Management: Method, Not Magic

By Ronald A. Gunn, Strategic Futures principal

As organizations take more multidisciplinary approaches to accomplishing work and as management and staff juggle multiple assignments at once, there is renewed interest in the power of matrix organization and management. At Strategic Futures®, we receive e-messages from throughout the world asking for more information about matrix management. This article is posted on our Web site to help our site visitors access some information and learn how Strategic Futures® can provide additional assistance on a fee-for-service basis.

 

A Note on the Relative Scarcity of What You Seek

If you are reading this, you are probably aware that there is a relative paucity of useful literature concerning matrix management. The best stuff is no longer in print; I was lucky enough to be exposed to some of it by one of my most cherished management professors nearly two decades ago.

I have my opinionated, possibly vitriolic, theories as to why this literature shortage exists. Suffice it to say that more complicated, less sexy, management approaches that were honed in engineering and other R&D environments some four decades ago don’t garner much interest from many of today’s business book publishers. There’s neither management magic nor mysticism in the matrix approach. This is about the hard-driving, producing organization—not fluff-of-the-month. A disciplined, methodical approach is required and, in case you haven’t noticed, this is in relatively short supply and it suffers from less-than-burning popularity.

If your organization is ill-positioned for a disciplined, methodical approach to work organization and management, you may want to lobby quietly against matrix management and on behalf of a different—meaning slower, simpler, less powerful—approach in your organization.

I’m serious.

What is a Matrix?

Webster is useful here. Webster’s defines a matrix as "something within which something else originates or develops." The relevance of this definition to matrix management is that the matrix matters less than the projects or multidisciplinary processes which emerge from this approach to organization and management. More to the point, however, is the definition which states "something resembling a mathematical matrix, especially in its rectangular arrangement of elements into rows and columns." Rows and columns: The horizontal and the vertical. The horizontal and the vertical intersecting into a grid, where the grid is a network of interfaces. A matrix interface is where the focus of authority and responsibility comes into play, largely determining who works with whom on a project, product, or other process flow. These interfaces can be between the project teams and the functional elements of an organization.

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