Identifying Services for "kanbanization" #2 - Matrix Managed Organizations

Posted on October 21, 2013 by David Anderson

This is the 4th in my series of blog posts on Kanban and service delivery and the 2nd on how you find services within your organization. In this post I take a look at matrix management and how it presents a significant opportunity for improving efficiency, utilization and staff liquidity by introducing explicitly managed shared services.

In the picture below, the small orange tickets are avatars for people. They have names of individuals written on the tickets. Some of these tickets belong to people from functional departments where the people are permanently assigned to the project for its duration. This concept in know as "matrix management" because the people officially belong to their home department but are assigned to work for the project. The project manager can count on them as dedicated "resources". In the specific example below, some of the avatar tickets belong to user interface designers who have been "matrixed" on to the project.

Specifically, there are only 2 user interface designers, so only two of the avatars represent designers. This means that they can only service design demand from 2 of the 5 development teams, at any given time. Like the architects from yesterday's post, these two designers already represent a shared service within the project. It would be possible to make this explicit by giving them their own small kanban board to show the competing demand from the 5 teams within the project.

Matrixed managed individuals are rarely embedded into their project teams. It is unusual for such people to move locations and desks to be co-located with their project. Generally they just continue to sit in the space allocated for their functional department such as user interface. Everyone knows where to find the user interface designers because they all sit together.

If our user interface designers have their own small kanban board for their client project, and other user interface designers start doing the same with their customers, the user interface design department will be a hive of kanban activity. It is not a difficult step for the manager to decide to consolidate all of these boards into one single location. Now the user interface design service has one kanban system. We could make a lane for each work item type based on source of demand - so a lane for each project to which we have matrixed people. We write the names of the people in the lanes. So far nothing has changed other than visualization and making things explicit.

However, now we are in a position to make a significant and powerful change in the organization. We take some of the people off the lanes and give them avatars and allow them to float between lanes. We make these assignment changes at daily standups or allow the department to self-organize around it. We switch to offering service level agreements with expected delivery lead times for service requests for each client project. What we've effectively done is dismantle the matrix management in the organization and replace it with an effective shared services organization.

Shared services have an advantage over matrix management. They are more staff efficient and  they increase our staff liquidity enabling us to manage risk better. Variation across a portfolio of projects is absorbed within the shared service. The effect is better utilization of people and almost certainly better service and quality across a portfolio of client services.

If you are interested in how Kanban helps with improved service delivery in creative knowledge work organizations, and how it helps to switch managers to understanding the true business they are in, then I will be talking about this at the Modern Management Methods conference in London on 31st October. Register now!