Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Implementing a Matrix Org

Matrix pillsImage by ThomasThomas via Flickr

So, you've just gotten word that your company will be implementing a matrix organization in IT. What is that? Why now? What does it mean to me? A matrix organization can be a game changer for your company. Throughput can easily triple for IT. It can feel a lot like the difference between driving in 1st and 4th gear in your 911. This article addresses the background behind the move to matrix organizations, their origins, and some of the pitfalls to watch out for so that your implementation can bring the benefits you are seeking to gain.

The origins of the matrix organization started with consulting companies dozens of years ago. They are structured so that individuals belong to a professional discipline (e.g. development, architecture, analysis, quality assurance, etc), and are assigned to one or more clients for different projects. The matrix is defined by two axis: Technical Discipline and Project(s). In consulting practices, consultants are assigned by a resource manager over the technical discipline to an account manager on a project. For the purposes of this discussion, we'll call the professional discipline the "horizontal" and the projects the "vertical" axis.

Corporations have traditionally supported their business function's IT needs with silo'd support departments. There are benefits: Business domain knowledge of the IT staff tends to be high. But, from a technical practitioner perspective, the IT staff tends to be less specialized as they try to support ALL of the IT needs of the business function. It's not unlikely to hear employees in silo'd organizations to say things like "we had our big development push last year... this year we're in maintenance mode."

Corporations take on many key initiatives just to remain competitive today. Business is fierce, and one would be hard pressed to find a business that is betting on just one initiative to succeed. The costs of supporting a traditional departmentally silo'd model is overwhelming if you want to stay in business. The corporate demand to initiate and complete IT projects is many times what it was say 20 years ago.

The need for highly efficient expertise in horizontal disciplines (IT specialization) has made the traditional consultant matrix organizational structure attractive to corporations. No longer is it common to be the IT guy that just works for marketing, or sales, or distribution. Departmental IT silos are minimally staffed, if at all, and usually just have one or two maintenance personnel or "super-users" assigned for key systems. Very capable, intelligent specialists are often assigned to more than one "key" initiative in an organization, because of the need for their specific skill level.

The matrix organization has arrived in corporations, and while this can be very exciting for type "A" consultants, it has the potential to make a good number of your IT employees uneasy. The transition introduces stress and uncertainty. The sense of security your employee had (by being and belonging to the same team year after year) is eliminated. They are now evaluated on their personal merits as a technical practitioner. They need to stay skilled, motivated, and efficient because assignments will frequently change as initiatives complete and the landscape will repeatedly be renewed. This is the organizational paradigm shift (to borrow an old term), and to get the results you desire you would be wise to be careful in your implementation so that it will succeed.

To successfully implement a matrix organization in a traditional corporate structure you will need to put many things in place. Among them are:

1. Mentorship. The employee must feel he has someone he can talk to and that's not just the resource manager. The mentorship model requires senior people who can professionally advise the employee on growth areas. The mentor is someone who poses no threats or demands, someone who can listen to the individual's concerns and champion changes to the management of the company. Having a good mentorship model is a great way to improve your organization into reaching the levels of a learning organization. Mentors should meet with mentees at least once or twice per month.

2. Professional development. Implementation of a matrix organization speaks volumes to your employees about your beliefs in optimzation and high efficiency. Let them believe you by investing in them. Time should be set aside each year for employees to improve their skills, whether that's letting them attend conferences, seminars, or training classes and achieving certification levels. Other areas for professional development may include budget for books, or creating a library available for research.

3. Build a sense of community. Meet regularly within each horizontal discipline. That translates into scheduling time away from initiatives for a few hours each month to meet and discuss experiences on their initiatives, approaches to solving problems, and developing best practices for your organization. Enable your employees by creating collaborative work areas, wikis (knowledge bases), and provide communication methods, such as internal on-line chat, so that they can communicate more effectively within the discipline. Your employees will feel lost and overworked without a sense of community. In a matrix organization, employees have to recognize that there is something in it for their own personal growth. There is no better feeling than that of collegiality. Contributions will begin to flow in. Recognize contributions that can be leveraged to other team members and initiatives and celebrate the achievements of individuals to the professional discipline.

What are some of your thoughts ,challenges and experiences in implementing a matrix organization in your company?
Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment