Using Matrix Organizational Structure for Project Teams

Last updated on September 14, 2022

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Managerial techniques have shifted from the traditional division of labor that allocated teams specific work to today’s more agile matrix management. Every organization is matrixed in some way, with the technique going back as far as the 1960’s, when NASA used it for the Apollo moon landing project.

Since then, even firms like Philips, Caterpillar and Texas Instruments set up multiple reporting lines that combined the functional and project managerial aspects of work.

A matrix organizational structure is a company structure that lets resources break free from traditional silos. In other words, it lets businesses tap into a single pool of people such that the right and available competencies are deployed to cross-departmental projects. This solution fixed the problem traditional hierarchies faced earlier,i.e, finding and sharing data and resources across the business.

In a matrix reporting structure, employees report to multiple teams and work under multiple managers. While a functional, or line manager would be responsible for allocating work to teams and appraising employee performance, team members are sent to help out with a parallel project.

A RACI chart is used to provide clarity over tasks and the level of involvement expected out of different members.

Let’s dive into this a bit more with the question;

matrix organizational structure

1. What Is A Responsibility Assignment Matrix?

A responsibility assignment matrix, also called a RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed) is used to assign responsibilities based on the role each stakeholder plays.

By mapping out each task, milestone and decision, dependencies are established and publicized. A more detailed explanation of the acronym is as follows;

  • Responsible: This refers to a member, or an entire team who is given either an objective or a task to complete.
  • Accountable: This person takes ownership of work and has the authority to sign off, approve, alter or even revise decisions based on an assessment of work progress.
  • Consulted: As active participants, these stakeholders give input on a particular task and add their recommendations based on experiential judgment and knowledge.
  • Informed: Typically senior in rank, these people need to be kept informed of what’s going on with regular project updates, key decisions. While they don’t necessarily need to contribute to the actual task, they would still need to know why such- and-such action was taken and who took it.

The first step to ensuring tasks are carried out is to appoint a leader to manage those who are assigned the task.

In simpler words, working out who can keep people and tasks on track so that the line(s) of authority doesn’t get blurred. When project participants are kept informed of workloads and timelines within which specific goals are to be reached, it reduces the confusion.

Project teams that work under a matrix management structure benefit from a project management RACI structure, some of which include,

A. Better collaboration

Teams know who to report to, and who they will be working with. Besides facilitating healthier dynamics within a team, applying the RACI framework within a matrixed organization lets your team members pick up new skills and diversify their capabilities across complex projects.

This, in turn, introduces a fresh perspective onto projects (i.e, the ability to devise strategy and provide solutions to resolve existing, or new bottlenecks).

B. Absolute work visibility

Given that matrixed projects utilize a crossover of skills, you would require complete visibility in order to check in on tasks, changes to resource availability and how it impacts both project health and the current workforce capacity.

When you know who is doing what, you can assess work done, work in progress and even conduct strategic workforce planning to mitigate work seasonalities. In other words, correcting skill crunches and clashes with an optimal quantity of work hours.

C. Clearer expectations

Each person in the RACI has a role to play, which ensures lines aren’t crossed. You only incorporate feedback and suggestions from people with decisive power and communicate these in an orderly and timely fashion to your resources.

Setting expectations lets people know when and where they’re needed for work going forward, and lets senior stakeholders know what kind of information they’ll get from the reports sent across.

D. Enhanced decision making

A responsibility matrix in project management ensures decisions concerning project execution, risk mitigation and quality compliance aren’t delayed to the extent of adversely impacting constrained projects.

It involves the right people at the right time and gives them actionable data to work with, which lets them review action items and take strategic decisions regarding planned and unplanned changes.

2. Tips on using a project responsibility matrix

The reason a project RACI is used in matrix management is to primarily bring everyone on the same page. This is applicable to smaller teams that are easier to manage. It’s inevitable that when skills and data are shared, competing goals get created. Decisions risk being overridden when priorities change midway, making it unclear as to who has the final word on the work carried out.

project management matrix

Points worth remembering to use a project management matrix responsibly include,

A. List project tasks comprehensively

Under the Work Breakdown Structure you create, list out all tasks and match to a specific area of work (i.e. financial, technical or marketing) in order to know which department’s resources will have to be plugged in. Only then can you estimate the type and number of staff you’ll need to put in a request for.

B. Link these tasks to the right people

Draw from the project management skills matrix to know if the skills you need are available and sufficient to meet the project’s requirements. You can then source ahead if you’re running low or missing key skills.

What’s more, the talent management strategy you devise leaves your staff with enough time to retrain and scale up the existing competency levels, thereby taking them off the bench and enabling them to make constructive use of their capabilities.

C. Keep one person as accountable

As the expression goes, ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’, which is why it’s mandatory to have only one person accountable based on an evaluation of their seniority, experience and relevance. It also reduces ambiguity and chances of work quality falling below expectations.

D. Communicate with Consultants

Your project cannot do without expert counsel, in the form of consultants. Maintain a two-way channel of communication such that neither do they miss a vital task, and nor do you overlook their insights. Communication also ensures follow-ups are regularized and that stakeholders are kept informed.

With these points in mind, a matrix organizational structure will be a breeze to set up and manage. From boosting project performance to shaping your resource pool’s learning curve, apply the benefits and guidelines to revolutionize work!

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