Matrix management

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A matrix organization

Strictly speaking, matrix management is the practice of managing individuals with more than one reporting line (in a matrix organization structure), but it is also commonly used to describe managing cross functional, cross business group and other forms of working that cross the traditional vertical business units – often silos - of function and geography.

What is matrix management?[edit]

It is a type of organizational management in which people with similar skills are pooled for work assignments, resulting in more than one manager (sometimes referred to as solid line and dotted line reports, in reference to traditional business organization charts).

For example, all engineers may be in one engineering department and report to an engineering manager, but these same engineers may be assigned to different projects and report to a different engineering manager or a project manager while working on that project. Therefore, each engineer may have to work under several managers to get his or her job done.

The matrix for project management[edit]

A lot of the early literature on the matrix comes from the field of cross functional project management where matrices are described as strong, medium or weak depending on the level of power of the project manager.

Some organizations fall somewhere between the fully functional and the pure matrix. These organizations are defined in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge[1] as ’composite’. For example, even a fundamentally functional organization may create a special project team to handle a critical project.

However, today, matrix management is much more common and exists at some level, in most large complex organizations, particularly those that have multiple business units and international operations.

Management advantages and disadvantages[edit]

Key advantages that organizations seek when introducing a matrix include:

Key disadvantages of matrix organizations include:

Application: Advantages and Disadvantages in a project management situation[edit]

The advantages of a matrix for project management can include:

The disadvantages for project management can include:

In popular culture[edit]

Current thinking on matrix management[edit]

In 1990 Christopher A. Bartlett and Sumantra Ghoshal writing on matrix management in the Harvard Business Review,[3] quoted a line manager saying “The challenge is not so much to build a matrix structure as it is to create a matrix in the minds of our managers”. Despite this, most academic work has focused on structure, where most practitioners seem to struggle with the skills and behaviours needed to make matrix management a success. Most of the disadvantages are about the way people work together, not the structure.

In “Designing Matrix Organizations That Actually Work” Jay R. Galbraith[4] says “Organization structures do not fail, but management fails at implementing them successfully.” He argues that strategy, structure, processes, rewards and people all need to be aligned in a successful matrix implementation.

In “Making the Matrix Work: How Matrix Managers Engage People and Cut through Complexity”, Kevan Hall[5] identifies a number of specific matrix management challenges in an environment where accountability without control, and influence without authority, become the normal way of working:

Visual representation[edit]

Representing matrix organizations visually has challenged managers ever since the matrix management structure was invented. Most organizations use dotted lines to represent secondary relationships between people, and charting software such as Visio and OrgPlus supports this approach. Until recently, Enterprise resource planning (ERP) and Human resource management systems (HRMS) software did not support matrix reporting. Late releases of SAP software support matrix reporting, and Oracle eBusiness Suite can also be customized to store matrix information.


Matrix management should not be confused with "tight matrix". Tight matrix, or co-location, refers to locating offices for a project team in the same room, regardless of management structure.


Further reading[edit]