Project Management Institute

The corporate triple, or matrix madness

Concerns of Project Managers

The Olde Curmudgeon

The other day a little man with a large MBA walked into my office and declared that I had been selected to develop the new Corporate Matrix Plan. I asked the little man, “Do you know what a Corporate Matrix Plan is?” After he had mumbled and stuttered for a few moments, it was clear that he didn't.

I asked him if he wanted a Corporate Matrix Plan. That would be a corporate plan for a matrix. Or, did he want me to create a Corporate Matrix Plan? In that case we would be dealing with a plan for a corporate matrix. Finally, I asked if he really wanted a Corporate Matrix Plan, which would of course be a matrix plan that was the property of the corporation. The little man responded to each question with a blank stare. “Perhaps you should discuss the matter with your boss,” I suggested. (I've always been a bit of a troublemaker!)

When he returned some hours later, I knew his boss didn't understand the problem either. He told the little man, “It doesn't matter, pick the one you like !”

Now, it is not this Mushroom's intent to be critical of matrix plans, matrix organizations, matrix organizers, or even of organized matrices. What really bugs me is the careless, if not capricious use, misuse, and abuse of words in the workplace. After all, most of the misnamed, silly, avant-garde, trendy fads and managerial nonsense that have come to pervade our professional lives are no doubt the results of the honest efforts of conscientious persons trying to meet real and pressing needs of some sort. I guess we must call that progress.

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These notions come and go like the wind and the tide. They keep MBAs, managers, and administrators busy, off the streets and out of public houses during daytime hours. They also make the manufacturers of paper, typewriter ribbons, and photocopying machines very, very happy.

Most technical folk think of a matrix in mathematical terms. It is an n x m rectangular array of numbers. Matrices behave very much like the integers. They have a rich mathematical structure. They can be added, multiplied, and sometimes even divided. Moreover, the word matrix is a noun, not an adjective.

Institute

When the need for a management tool such as Matrix Organization was first perceived, why did the pioneers not give their invention a meaningful name. This would have eliminated all the concern about using nouns as verbs and mathematical entities as symbols for silliness. The inventors might have considered, “Functional Organization for Projects” (FOP); or perhaps “Project Organization by Function” (POF); or even “Project Orientation by Organizational Functionalization” (POOF). One can only wonder how long it would take “FOP, POF, POOF” to replace “TIC, TAC, TOE’ as the leading intellectual activity in the board rooms of great American corporations.

An appropriate and meaningfully descriptive name for a new and useful concept, would save many people, including this Mushroom, a great deal of consternation. Try it next time!

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This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

OCTOBER 1993

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