Many years ago, when I was a partner with Ernst & Young, John Cross, the CIO of BP (a very highly regarded company at that time) approached me wanting to benchmark the way E&Y managed its engagements.  My first reaction was incredulity.  I knew we were good at engagement management – after all, it was what we did for a living!  But it was not immediately clear why this would be of interest to BP.  John explained,

You respond to RFP’s and prospect requests virtually overnight.  You assemble a consulting team with the right mix of competencies in a day or so, and you get them on the ground at the client site, with their own consulting workbenches and tools, ready to be productive in about 48 hours.  You do all this while developing new people, managing engagement economics, running a robust quality assurance process, and keeping up with emerging technologies.  If my IT organization could do those things half as well as E&Y does them, we’d be in great shape!”

What You Can Learn From Consulting Businesses

Now I got it, and realized why John had been so successful at BP, leading the transformation of IT first at BP Exploration, and then globally across BP’s business units.  What we found through the benchmarking exercise (BP was part of a 3-year longitudinal study of global IT transformations that I was leading at the time) was that one of the trickier and more subtle aspects of the E&Y ‘magic’ was the deeply ingrained Matrix Management approach.  Individual contributors reported to both their discipline leader, and the leader of the project to which they were assigned.  Both bosses were part of regular performance reviews, with the project leader’s input carrying significant weight.  Over the course of a year, you might work on a half-dozen or more project, and work in a couple of disciplines, so you were getting performance feedback from 8 or more people.

Other Factors for Matrix Management Success

If you need the flexibility and agility that Matrix Management can bring, and the characteristics of a good consulting organization that I described above, there are several ‘conditions for success’ I’d like to point out:

  1. Clarity of Roles and Responsibilities, and “Organizational Clarity” as Patrick Lencioni refers to it in his great book, Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive.
  2. A clear distinction between ‘role’ and ‘job’ – people may have one job, but fill many roles depending upon their competencies and the need at hand.
  3. A robust Performance Management System – where performance feedback is taken very seriously, performed consistently, and has a direct impact on rewards, recognition, career path and promotions.  Both the individual performer and managers must take Performance Management seriously.
  4. An organizational environment where ‘power and success’ are not denoted by one’s number of direct reports, but by one’s contributions to the success of the organization.
  5. Strong Project Managers.  A ‘project’ is the ultimate temporal unit of management – if the project management process is broken, or project managers not fully competent, Matrix Management will suffer and confusion will rein.

I am indebted (as ever!) to my colleague Roy Youngman for his contributions to this post.

Image courtesy of Global Integration

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