Matrix Organization and Collectivist Task-Orientation

By Andrew J. Malanga, Hong Kong, 2014

How-to-Do-Many-Projects--Part-2----Matrix-Management-1-piMatrix management was intended to be an adaptable management structure to permit organizations to be reactive to changes and uncertainties while enabling organizations to apportion vast resources while remaining task-orientated (Larson & Gobeli, 1987).  This is a fundamental principle behind matrix organization. Matrix organization, to be effective, requires that the organization culture be task oriented.  Matrix organizations requires that the task be the focal point in the organization and that the members pursue whatever means appropriate to accomplish the task (Rowlinson & Root, 1996). The concept of task-orientation, often appears in the literature as does its opposite; role-orientation.  Generally, collectivist cultures such as those that exist in China (including Hong Kong), Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, and elsewhere are perceived as role-oriented societies; attentive to relationships and group harmony.  In contrast, Westerners value task-orientation, productivity, and prefer employees to follow procedures and instructions so that they can work productively (Wong et al., 2007).  Western project management espouses a strong task-orientation where relationships are secondary to task.  When assessing the effectiveness of a project team, PMBOK 4 (2008) proposed thatcontact-banner highly successful project teams are typified by task-oriented and results-oriented outcomes.  In contrast, for Hong Kong Chinese project managers, tasks can only be accomplished if inter-group harmony and good relationships are achieved (Chen & Partington, 2004).  In a study conducted by Rowlinson & Root (1996) the researchers discovered that the common culture of Hong Kong organizations was one in which role-orientation was predominant; that is, procedures and formal authority were seen as mechanisms by which work was undertaken (Rowlinson, 2001).   Leung, Chan, & Chong (2010) conducted a study of 139 Hong Kong Chinese construction professionals who had grown up in Hong Kong, been educated in Hong Kong, and were currently living in Hong Kong.  Their results, not surprisingly, showed that Hong Kong Chinese construction professionals were more focused on interpersonal team relations (Leung et al., 2010).  The professionals sought connections and communications with supervisors, colleagues, and subordinates in order to clarify the scope and responsibilities of their roles.  This was to avoid role conflict.  Project team members deemed this more important than task-orientation (Leung et al., 2010).  Consistent with this research are the findings of Chen & Partington (2004) who concluded that project managers working within collectivist cultures will pay more attention to building and maintaining personal relationships within the project team, while Western counterparts will focus more on task.

taskEffective matrix organization demands a task-orientation rather than a role-orientation because focus must remain on completing the job at hand and no distraction is permitted to keep one from completing the task (Wang & Liu, 2007).  In fact, projects tend to be more task-oriented than the organizations within which they are pursued. Wang & Liu (2007) argue that Hong Kong Chinese culture favors strong hierarchies and large power distance making Hong Kong Chinese favor boss-orientation over task-orientation.  Phua & Rowlinson (2004) reinforced this findingRole with their own research which sampled all construction firms operating in Hong Kong.  The researchers observed that the Hong Kong construction industry inclination towards boss-orientation becomes a cultural obstacle to the task-centric matrix organizational structure (Phua & Rowlinson, 2004).  This fosters an organizational culture in which employees are more apt to place greater weight on making the boss happy than on completing the task most efficiently (Wang & Liu, 2007).

There are congruencies between role-orientation and task-orientation.  While role-orientation stresses making one’s boss happy, task-orientation emphasizes task completion.  The research of Wang & Liu (2007) showed that the Hong Kong Chinese generally focus on making the boss happy, but in some cases, it is the same thing: People could make the boss happy by way of completing the relevant task (Wang & Liu, 2007).

The significance of this discussion is that it underscores the idea that relationships do exist between organizational structures and cultural behaviors and norms. It is important for project management practitioners to realize that by recognizing and understanding the organizational cultures within which they work, they can better formulate effective procedures, organizational structures, and communications practices that fit their work environments. If effective matrix organization implementation is to remain a primary factor in large complex business’s success, then project management professionals and senior executives must be aware of the interplay between organizational structures and organizational culture; the ways in which they change, and the ways in which they work together.



Chen, P., Partington, D., & Qiang, M. (2009). Cross-cultural understanding of construction project managers’ conceptions of their work. Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, 135(6), 477–487. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)CO.1943-7862.0000009

Larson, E. W., & Gobeli, D. H. (1987). Matrix management: Contradictions and insights. California Management Review, 29(4), 126–138. Retrieved from

Leung, M., Chan, Y.-S., & Chong, A. M. L. (2010). Chinese values and stressors of construction professionals in Hong Kong. Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, 136(12), 1289–1298. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)CO.1943-7862.0000234

Phua, F. T. T., & Rowlinson, S. (2004). Operationalizing culture in construction management research: A social identity perspective in the Hong Kong context. Construction Management and Economics, 22(9), 913–925. doi:10.1080/01446190310001631000

PMBOK 4. (2008). Project management body of knowledge, fourth edition (4th ed.). Newton Square: Project Management Institute, Inc.

Rowlinson, S. (2001). Matrix organizational structure, culture and commitment: a Hong Kong public sector case study of change. Construction Management and Economics, 19(7), 669–673. doi:10.1080/01446190110066137

Rowlinson, S., & Root, D. (1996). The impact of culture on project management: Final report to the British Council. Hong Kong.

Wang, X., & Liu, L. (2007). Cultural barriers to the use of Western project management in Chinese enterprises: Some empirical evidence from Yunnan province. Project Management Journal, 38(3), 61–73. doi:10.1002/pmj.20006

Wong, J., Wong, P. N. K., & Heng, L. (2007). An investigation of leadership styles and relationship cultures of Chinese and expatriate managers in multinational construction companies in Hong Kong. Construction Management and Economics, 25(1), 95–106. doi:10.1080/01446190600632573

Recognize and Counter Negotiators’ Dirty Tricks

By Andrew J. Malanga, Hong Kong, 2014


We negotiate every day in some way or another.  We may not even realize we are entering into a negotiation.  The seminal book by Fisher, Ury & Patton (2011), Getting to Yes, provides a great overview of the types of “dirty tricks” that can be used against us.  Some common trick tactics are things like unclear authority (feigning that the real decision must be made elsewhere by someone else), dishonesty, partial disclosure, etc.  Some dirty tricks may also involve positional pressure tactics using methods like calculated delays, unrealistic or escalating demands, or a take it or leave it offer.  Dirty tricks can also take the form of more subtle types of “psychological warfare”.  The “good cop – bad cop” scenario comes to mind.  Or, simply, the other party may try to make the environment uncomfortable, may not break for lunch, or may do something else that reduces our overall feeling of well-being.


John Patrick Dolan, author of Negotiate like the Pros, composed an article in which he outlines ten separate negotiation tactics including some “dirty trick” tactics (Dolan J., 2005).   In this article, Dolan identifies a few less common dirty tricks such as the “Trial Balloon”. These are questions designed to assess your negotiating counterpart’s position without giving any clues about your plan. The “Bait-and-Switch” is a technique in which your counterpart may try to attract your interests with one great offer, but then hook you with another mediocre one.

Well, what should we do? We should negotiate the process or rules of the game.  We should neither tolerate dirty tricks, nor should we respond in kind.  This often only escalates the problems.  “[Some tactics] are used to take advantage of the other person. To be successful in sales and business, you must be able to differentiate between negotiationthe fair and unfair negotiation tactics so you can use the good ones to your advantage and deflect the questionable ones.” (Dolan, 2005).  If we recognize that the other side is using a dirty trick, we should reveal our knowledge to the other side and then question the legitimacy of it.  Often this alone is enough to embarrass the other side into dispensing with their shenanigans.   We should always strive, in the face of “dirty tricks”, to stick to our guns and use interest based negotiations instead of position.

Fisher, Ury & Patton (2011).  Getting to Yes; Negotiating Agreement without Giving in. Penguin Books, 2011.
Dolan, J (1992). Negotiate like the Pros.  Perigee Trade, 1992.
Dolan, J (2005). How to Overcome the Top Ten Negotiating Tactics.  Executive’s Digest, The Bull & Bear Financial Report, September 2005.

The Importance of Sincerity

From taff on October 14th / CONFLICT MANAGEMENT

Most of us have had the experience of delivering an apology that fell on deaf ears. When apologies fail to achieve their aims, poor delivery is usually to blame. In particular, if the recipient thinks your apology is less than sincere, she is unlikely to forgive you.

This was the case in union-management negotiations at Philippines-based Golden Donut, Inc. When the management’s negotiating team showed up 35 minutes late to the talks, the union’s team stormed out in protest. In an attempt to resume the process, the management team sent the union negotiators a letter that included an apology. Perceiving the apology to be insufficient, the union refused to reconvene and ultimately went on strike.

When it comes time to make an apology, how can you convey your sincerity? By delivering the apology in person, expressing it with emotion, and conveying a sense of personal responsibility and remorse. In one study, Edward Tomlinson of John Carroll University and Roy Lewicki of Ohio State University found that participants viewed apologies to be more sincere when they included internal attributions for the harm (for example, “It was my fault”) than when the apologies included external attributions (“Market conditions were poor”).

The ability to make a sincere apology also significantly rests on your credibility. In particular, a history of unfulfilled promises were ineffective as the individual who committed a trust violation had issued a deceptive message earlier in the experiment. Therefore, don’t give assurances or make promises during a negotiation unless you’re certain you can follow through on them.

(See also: Team building, interpersonal relationships)

Negotiators typically try to advance their case by making persuasive arguments, listening closely to the other side, and inventing creative options. Sometimes, however, your most effective move can be a straightforward, heartfelt admission that you made a mistake.

When you download the New Conflict Management: Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies to Avoid Litigation you will learn how wise negotiators extract unexpected value using an indirect approach to conflict management.

Related Article: How to Say I’m Sorry

Related Article: Best Negotiation Case Studies

Originally posted on September 7, 2012.

How to Stop Time –

How to Stop Time – IN the unlikely event that we could ever unite under the banner of a single saint, it might just be St. Expeditus. According to legend, when the Roman centurion decided to convert to Christianity, the Devil appeared in the form of a crow and circled above him crying “cras, cras” — Latin for “tomorrow, tomorrow.” Expeditus stomped on the bird and shouted victoriously, “Today!” For doing so, Expeditus achieved salvation, and is worshiped as the patron saint of procrastinators. Sometimes you see icons of him turned upside down like an hourglass in the hope that he’ll hurry up and help you get your work done so he can be set right-side up again.

Accelerating Project Completion



Andrew J. Malanga, Hong Kong, 2014

Reducing project scope to accelerate a project. 

             Project scope is very important and defines the end result or mission of the project.  Project scope is developed under the direction of the project manager and the customer and is a map of sorts used by the project owner and participants for project planning and to measure project success.  [pullquote]Changing the project scope is risky because doing so often results in a reduction in project functionality. [/pullquote] Changing the project scope is risky because doing so often results in a reduction in project functionality. Although reducing or changing project scope may seem an attractive remedy to meet unreasonable deadlines or reduce costs, the risks to the ultimate project end state is significant. Some ways to mitigate these disadvantages of reducing product scope all revolve around insuring that the customer get the product expected.  If you can reduce the scope of a project without reducing either its functionality or value, then you have most likely made you scope more practical and reasonable and will get the customer what the customer expects.  Otherwise, it is important to communicate changes with the customer because it may be that the customer is willing to compromise some functionality for a savings in either time or costs.

Reducing the project duration increases the risk of being late. 

             This seems counter-intuitive but it is easily explained how this situation occurs.  The risk of being late in a project in which you “crash” the duration increases as the “sensitivity” of the project network increases.  This “sensitivity” is related to the number of critical or near-critical paths within the project network.  This is important because critical or near-critical paths have little or no slack and if delayed, then delay the entire project.  If there are 20 separate activity paths in a project network and 3 are critical then the risk of a project delay is less than if that same project had 15 critical paths.  The latter poses 12 more opportunities for a project delay.  So when you reduce project time by reducing the durations of specific activity paths, they then become near-critical or critical paths.  This reduces overall scheduling flexibility and increases the risk that the project will be late.

Project Cost-Duration calculations and determining which activities to shorten

Using a project cost-duration graph is a way to determine how the cost and duration trade-off can reveal the optimal cost-time schedule for a project.  Central to this technique is understanding that project managers must seek critical activities that can be shortened but with the smallest increase in associated cost per unit [pullquote] project managers must seek critical activities that can be shortened but with the smallest increase in associated cost per unit [/pullquote] of time. The network diagram below is a simplified example.  Here we are calculating direct and indirect costs for the project with a specified number, six, activities (A – G) required to complete the project with associated time units (duration) per activity. The indirect cost for each project duration is $400 (19 time units), $350, (18), $300 (17), and $250 (16).  The maximum time reduction for any activity is the difference between the normal time and the crash time. Let’s say activity A has a crash time of 2 units at $70 but with a normal time of 3 units at $50. The maximum time reduction for activity A is, therefore, 2 units.  The corresponding crash costs represents a slope.

Slope=(crash cost -normal cost )/(normal time-crash time) =        ($70-$50 )/(3-2)= $20 per period reduced.

table 1

graph 1

In the sample graph and network diagrams above the critical path is represented by the red arrows.  You can see in the second box with time “18” that the critical path is A, B, E, G and it is not possible to shorten act G, therefore, act A is circled because it has the least cost, an x has been placed in the duration for Act A to indicate it can be reduced no further.  Similarly, in the third box with time “17”, there are 3 critical paths and Act E is circled because it can be reduce by one unit of duration. graph 2In the end 17 time units and $840 is the optimum cost-time project duration because, as illustrated by the graph above, any movement away from 17 time units represents an increase in project costs.