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Problems of the Matrix Projects
The matrix organization does have some disadvantages and problems, but they need not be considered insurmountable. Knowing what problems may occur is “half the battle” in overcoming them. The following disadvantages are inherent in the matrix organization:
Two Bosses — The major disadvantage is that the personnel on the project are working for two bosses. In any type of conflict situation, a person could easily become “the man in the middle.” Further problems of conflict can be caused by project personnel playing one boss against the other.
Complexity — The matrix organization is inherently more complex than either a functional or a pure project organization since it is the superimposition of one on the other. This complexity shows itself in the following problems:
Difficulties in Monitoring and Controlling — Complexity results from the number of managers and personnel involved and from the number of people that must be kept informed. Fortunately, modern computer techniques have helped to keep this problem under control, but basically, it’s still a “people” problem.
Complex Information Flow — This is a problem only because there are so many people and organizational units involved. Both the project and functional managers must be certain that they have touched bases with each other for any major decisions in their areas of responsibility.
Fast Reaction Difficult — The project manager is sometimes faced with a problem of achieving fast reaction times, primarily since there are so many people to be consulted. The project manager in the matrix usually does not have strong vested authority, therefore considerable negotiation is necessary. Project management was primarily conceived to prevent this problem, but it can be a problem if the management system keeps the project manager from making any decisions without consultation with functional and top management. If the matrix is working, the problem won’t occur.
Conflicting Guidance — The more complex organization with two lines of authority always increases the possibility of conflicting instructions and guidance.
Priorities — A matrix organization with a number of projects faces real problems with project priorities and resource allocation. Each project manager will obviously consider his project to have the highest priority. Similarly, each functional manager will consider that the allocation of resources and priorities within his department is his own business. As a result, the decisions involving project priorities and often the allocation of resources must be made at a high level. This often puts an undue and unwelcome load on the top executive officer in the matrix. This problem has led to the use of a manager of projects, or a super project manager in some organizations. His principal functions would be to consult with higher levels of management to assure equitable allocation of resources and to periodically reassess project priorities. This effort can be extremely valuable in reducing conflict and anxiety within the matrix.
Management Goals — There is a constant, although often unperceived, struggle in balancing the goals and objectives of project and functional management. A strong project manager may place undue emphasis on time and cost constraints, while a functional manager may concentrate on technical excellence at the expense of schedules. Top management must assure that a careful balance of the goals of both project and functional management is maintained.
Potential for Conflict — As discussed in a later section of this chapter, whenever there are two project managers competing for resources, there is potential for conflict. This conflict may evidence itself primarily as a struggle for power. However, it also may evidence itself by backbiting, foot-dragging and project sabotage. Conflict and competition may also be constructive as an aid to achieving high performance; however, it cannot be allowed to degenerate to personal antagonism and discord. In project work conflict is inevitable; keeping it constructive is the problem in matrix management.
Effects of Conflict on Management — Since conflict and stress are inherent in the matrix organization, considerable attention must be given to the individuals who will function as both project and functional managers. Individuals vary greatly in their ability to function effectively under stress. Conflict, particularly the role conflict typical of the two-boss situation, can produce stress, anxiety, and reduced job satisfaction. Considerable attention must be directed toward assuring that prospective managers have a high tolerance for conflict situations.
Davis and Lawrence have discussed the problems of the matrix which they term matrix pathologies (11). They list and discuss the following problems: power struggles, anarchy, groupitis, collapse during economic crunch, excessive overhead, decision strangulation, sinking, layering, and navel gazing. They indicate that many of these difficulties occur in more conventional organizations, but that the matrix seems somewhat more vulnerable to these particular ailments.
They indicate that power struggles are inevitable in a matrix because it is different from the traditionally structured hierarchy. In the matrix, power struggles are a logical derivative of the ambiguity and shared power that has been built purposefully into the design. Corporations will find it exceedingly difficult to prevent power struggles from developing, but they must prevent them from reaching destructive lengths.
Anarchy is defined as a company quite literally coming apart at the seams during a period of stress. As the authors admit, this is an unlikely occurrence, and the more explicit the organizational agreements are the less likely it is to occur.
Groupitis refers to confusing matrix behavior with group decision making. The matrix does not require that all business decisions be hammered out in group meetings. Group decision making should be done as often as necessary, and as little as possible.
Collapse during economic crunch refers* to the frequently noted fact that matrix organizations seem to blossom during periods of rapid growth and prosperity, and to be buffeted and/or cast away during periods of economic decline. It seems natural that during periods of crisis, top management thinks that the organization needs a firmer hand and reinstitutes the authoritarian structure. “There is no more time for organizational toys and tinkering. The matrix is done in.” Thus the matrix is the readily available scapegoat for other organizational problems such as poor planning and inadequate control.
One of the concerns of organizations first encountering the matrix is that it is too costly since it appears, on the surface, to double up on management by adding another chain of command. It is true that initially overhead costs do rise, but as the matrix matures, these overhead costs decreas and productivity gains appear.
It is suggested that moving into a matrix can lead to the strangulation of the decision process. “Will all bold initiatives be watered down by too many cooks?” Three possible situations can arise: (1) the necessity for constant clearing of all issues with the functional managers, (2) escalation of conflict caused by constant referral of problems up the dual chain of command, and (3) some managers feel that every decision must be a crisp, unilateral decision, therefore they will be very uncomfortable and ineffective in a matrix organization.
Sinking refers to the observation that there seems to be some difficulty in keeping the matrix viable at the corporate or institutional level, and a corresponding tendency for it to sink down to lower levels in the organization where it survives and thrives. This phenomenon may be indicative of top management not understanding the matrix or the matrix may just be finding its proper place.
Layering is defined as a phenomenon in which matrices within matrices are found. By itself, layering may not be a problem, but it sometimes creates more problems than it solves because the unnecessary complexity may be more of a burden than it is worth.
Navel gazing refers to the tendency to become absorbed in the organization’s internal relations at the expense of the world outside the organization, particularly to clients. This concentration on the internal workings of the organization is most likely to occur in the early phases of a matrix when new behaviours have to be learned.
Q1. What are the main reasons for conflict?
Q2. How can we make matrix projects work successfully?
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