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The Paradox of Project Control in a Matrix Organisation

There are 10 types of people in this world!
Those that understand binary and those that don't.

Anon

Keywords: Matrix Organisations, Project Control, Communications, Third Dimension Skills, Relationships, Stakeholder Management.

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The Paradox of Project Control in a Matrix Organisation [P028 & P038]

This paper explores the hypothesis that, within complex matrix organisations, the ‘zone’ between the strategic vision set by senior management and the projects created to fulfil it, is a highly complex and dynamic organism. Stimulus to the organism may, or may not produce change. The change may be slight or catastrophic, beneficial or detrimental, and cannot be predicted. Succeeding in this environment needs a different management paradigm from that developed for management in traditional project industries.

Project management evolved in construction / defence / engineering organisations. Typical characteristics found in these organisations include:-

The characteristics of a complex matrix organisation are completely different. They include:

Despite the obvious differences, managers at all levels seem to expect the ‘zone’ to always react to management stimuli in the same way. When unexpected outcomes eventuate, the reaction of senior management is to see the project process as being ‘out of control’. The solution of choice is usually to introduce more or better control mechanisms such as new KPIs: the assumption being that an adjustment to the controls at the top of a matrix organisation will have predictable outcomes at the lower levels inhabited by projects and project managers. This almost never eventuates because the only certainty in the ‘zone’ is unpredictability!

This paper will demonstrate:

The paradigm shift in management thinking needed to succeed in managing projects across the ‘zone’ is acceptance that the outcome from any management input to the ‘zone’ is unpredictable. To succeed, managers need to combine vigilance and flexibility; to identify and capitalise on unexpected gains and deal with unexpected problems. Communication networks and more flexible management of relationships are keys to resolving problems and creating success in the dynamic ever-changing environment of the ‘zone’.

Authors: Dr. Lynda Bourne and Prof. Derek H.T. Walker

First published 'Team Performance Management' Vol 11 # 5/6 2005 [ access published article ].

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