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

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.

Negotiation Skills: Negotiating to Give Good Advice

Posted By Project on Negotiation, Harvard on September 29, 2014

Many of us advise others on the job yet fail to plan adequately for this responsibility. Set up a strong relationship by negotiating your role as advisor.

Name-calling, backstabbing, and turf wars erupted among President Barack Obama’s civilian and military advisors in 2009, as he tried to devise a strategy for ending the war in Afghanistan, writes journalist Bob Woodward in his recent book, Obama’s Wars (Simon & Schuster, 2010).

Granted extensive access to Obama and members of his administration, Woodward depicts a power struggle that caused the president to lash out at his advisors in frustration at times. As Woodward’s book suggests, advisors can be as much a headache as a help.

Yet consider that almost all of us are responsible for advising others during the course of our work lives. For members of some professions, including business consultants, lawyers, and doctors, advising is a primary task. For others, ranging from salespeople to teachers to managers, advising is an integral part of the job, though not always recognized as such.

[pullquote]Whether you spend most or just a fraction of your workday advising others, it pays to reconsider how you approach your advisees[/pullquote], writes Tufts University professor Jeswald W. Salacuse in his book The Wise Advisor: What Every Professional Should Know About Consulting and Counseling (Praeger, 2000). In fact, as Obama’s decision-making process for the Afghan war suggests, when advisors and their clients clash over expectations and assignments, the results can be frustrating for everyone.

By negotiating your role with your client up front, suggests Salacuse in The Wise Advisor, you can lay the foundation for a productive relationship.

A dynamic relationship

Salacuse defines advice as a communication from one person (the advisor) to another (the client) that is intended to help deter mine a course of action for solving a problem. A key feature of advice is that the client may either accept or reject it.

Far more than just the delivery of information, advising is a two-way relationship that requires the active participation of both advisor and client, writes Salacuse. At times advisors serve as directors, guiding the client through the problem at hand, as in the case of an oncologist who must educate a patient about his disease and recommend treatment options. At other times, the advisor is more like a servant who must respond to the client’s numerous demands and perhaps compete for the client’s attention.

Obama’s advisors fell into this category as the president made decisions regarding the war in Afghanistan. A third course is for the advisor and the client to act as partners, jointly managing the advisory process by drawing on complementary knowledge and skills. An architect who is hired to design a house for a client with an artistic background might find that the two become equal partners in the project.

Finally, advisors can be relatively involved or uninvolved in the implementation of their advice. Surgeons implement the advice they give their patients, for example; psychotherapists do not.

Negotiate your role

A common mistake many advisors make is to assume they should simply tell clients what to expect from them. By contrast, experienced advisors understand that their role needs to be negotiated. Salacuse recommends asking a prospective client, “How do you think I can help you?” and then listening closely to the answer.

Why is it important to negotiate your role as advisor up front? Most obviously, your role determines the strategy you’ll take toward the client’s problem and how you will focus your energy, time, and talents, according to Salacuse. Imagine that a potential client has approached a marketing consultant about building the firm’s social-media presence.

The consultant will need to find out whether the client wants a “big picture” strategist who will devise a plan to be implemented internally or if the client also needs ongoing technological assistance.

[pullquote]As an advisor, defining the client’s underlying problem is your central task. A client is likely to focus on symptoms, such as “heartburn, falling profits, cracks in the walls,” [/pullquote]writes Salacuse. Drawing on your expertise, ask questions that look beyond symptoms to the deeper problem. Heartburn could be a sign of heart disease, falling profits could reflect the need for a reorganization, and wall cracks could suggest that a building’s foundation needs to be strengthened.

By negotiating the scope of a project, you educate the client about how you can help, what he must contribute, and how he can evaluate your advice. In addition, discussing your role lets you and the client agree on your fees (assuming you’ll be paid), your style of communication (e-mails or phone calls), assignments and deadlines, and your authority (or lack thereof) to act on the client’s behalf.

When you disagree

You may find during the course of an initial negotiation that you and a potential client have very different ideas about what your role should be, writes Salacuse. Suppose that a manager has been assigned to meet regularly with a new hire as part of a firmwide mentoring program. During their initial meeting, the advisor offers to meet with her advisee for lunch once every two weeks to discuss her career. The advisee politely explains that because of her hectic travel schedule, she can meet only once a month, at most.

The advisor might be insulted to be put in this limited role. But as Salacuse notes, advisees have plenty of reasons for restricting the scope of advisors’ involvement, including a natural desire to stay in control of their own lives—a desire that advisors must respect for the relationship to thrive. Keep in mind that as confidence and trust form, the scope of your role may expand.

A new hire who worries about becoming too dependent on her mentor may overcome these fears if the advisor proves to be both helpful and respectful of her boundaries.

Interestingly, research by Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino has found that [pullquote]people tend to be more receptive to advice that they pay for than to advice they get for free. [/pullquote]That may explain why a work subordinate or a family member may be less receptive to your pearls of wisdom than a paying client would be.

What if the client seems to need more time than you can give or, conversely, can’t afford to pay you for the amount of work that’s needed?

In this case, you might propose two scopes of work, one broad and one narrow, with two different price tags, suggests Salacuse.

Ultimately, though, if you discover that you and the client are at odds regarding your role, you may need to decline the offer of an advisory relationship altogether. If a contractor believes that a building’s foundation needs to be shored up, but the client is willing to pay for only cosmetic repairs, the contractor might turn down the work for fear of perpetuating a dangerous problem. “Knowing when to say no to a client may be as important as knowing when to say yes,” writes Salacuse.


Review of Hertzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory

Andrew  J. Malanga, Hong Kong, 2014

Sometimes It’s well worth going back through old journals and old articles to put management theory in perspective.  It’s almost like listening to rock from the 60s to understand many of the riffs and techniques musicians use today.  Sometimes we find that old classic remains relevant and elegant if not only for its simplicity.  The seminal work One More Time:  How Do You Motivate Employees?  by Frederick Herzberg represents, just such a relevant classic. 


Herzberg begins by dissecting, into its component parts, the conventional organizational understanding of “motivation.”  This understanding, says Herzberg, is not only incomplete, but is simply wrong.  Herzberg insists that management theories of the day mistakenly confuse motivation with another process: KITA (Kick In The Ass).  Herzberg suggests that KITA is a method of moving someone towards something by using negative or positive, physical or psychological inducements; what management would call “incentives.”  The real difference, says Herzberg, is that motivation, unlike KITA, is an impetus derived from an internal urge to move towards something: The carrot and stick mechanisms of KITA are inadequate and misleading.  To illustrate the folly in using incentives as a substitute for motivation, Herzberg identifies nine common employee incentives used by organizations to induce movement by employees toward increased productivity.  These incentives, says Herzberg, only stimulate an employee to reach for the next higher level of reward; not to perform more efficiently.  Ultimately, the organization may forever have to up the incentive ante if they want to keep the employees at the same level of performance.

Herzberg’s research unveiled an intriguing dichotomy: The things that make employees satisfied with the job are not the same things that make them dissatisfied with the job.  In other words, employee satisfaction is not the opposite of employee dissatisfaction.   An employee may be in any number of states: satisfied, not satisfied, not dissatisfied, dissatisfied.

Herzberg continues by examining two general factors of human needs that effect human satisfaction and dissatisfaction: hygiene factors and motivator factors.  Simply put, hygiene factors encompasses all those emotions and needs at the most base and instinctual level within humans, whereas motivator factors are the higher order needs uniquely characteristic of humans.  Hygiene factors, Herzberg concludes, are the primary cause of dissatisfaction, while motivator factors are the principal cause for satisfaction.


How do you motivate employees?  To answer this question, Herzberg unravels the inadequacies of three general organizational behavior approaches: organizational management, industrial engineering, and behavioral science.  Herzberg explains that his motivation-hygiene theory will result in “job enrichment” to bring about the most effective use of people.

Job enrichment, explains Herzberg, is best realized through a systemic and deliberate manipulation of motivator factors to create, within employees, a vested psychological interest in performing well.

Herzberg advances a method called “vertical job loading”; a process of distilling motivators from job enriching principles.  Removing some job controls, increasing personal accountability for one’s own work, granting additional authority, introducing new and more difficult tasks, and assigning specialized tasks are all principles which, if enacted at the workplace, will motivate employees.  Herzberg explains that these principles are the corollaries of high-order “motivator-factors” such as increased responsibility, recognition, achievement, and advancement.

Herzberg explains that changes brought about by job enrichment will have long-term effects on employee attitudes and that these changes should make each job challenging enough to exercise the skills of the employee hired for it.  Those with higher level skills will demonstrate such and, therefore, will win promotion to higher level jobs.  Ultimately, if even a small part of the resources we program for hygiene factors were re-programmed for job enrichment, concludes Herzberg, “. . . the return in human satisfaction and economic gain would be one of the largest dividends that industry and society have ever reaped through their efforts at better personnel management.”

Herzberg, F.I. 1987, ‘One more time: How do you motivate employees?’, Harvard Business Review, Sep/Oct 87, Vol. 65 Issue 5, p. 109-120

Identifying Project Risk

Andrew J. Malanga, Hong Kong, 2014

It may seem overly simple, but the first stage of the risk management process must be to identify all possible risks that could affect the project. Certainly, it would be impossible to produce an exhaustive list of every conceivable risk – but you can prioritize what risks you consider based on some intersection between likelihood of the risk event and the potential damage the risk event may cause. The project manager can initiate this process by establishing project priorities in the context of the project scope and objectives. Gray, 2008, suggests that this stage of risk identification must include building a risk management team consisting of key team-players and stakeholders. One of the keys to success in this stage of the process is to examine the project through disassembling it into separate elements. This type of systematic examination of individual project elements, and associated risks, can be geared towards specific project requirements, processes, functional areas, or technical requirements. Common techniques at this phase should solicit ideas and establish concerns from every possible angle and should use, as a basis, the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). This can be particularly useful in identifying some of the lesser emphasized process-oriented risks. On a small project the manager can do this himself; however the advantages in getting a risk management team involved include a broader diversity of opinion and the ability to foster the team’s interest in the project course. Additionally, a risk management team is more apt to draw from various functional areas to more easily employ multiple methods and techniques to identify all the risks that a project may encounter.

1. Gray, Clifford F (2008). Project Management; the managerial process. 4th Ed. McGraw-Hill/Irwin Co., Inc., New York, USA.

Project Management is Risk Management

By: Andrew J. Malanga, Hong Kong, 2014

Project management is an essential function that is the single greatest means of assuring that a project is successful in meeting its objectives. Project management provides managers with tools that improve their ability to plan, implement, and manage activities to accomplish specific organizational objectives. Risks are inherent in all projects and [pullquote]without the use of accurate and effective risk metrics a project manager can fail to mitigate serious risks and end up watching his project fail[/pullquote]. Risk management is a core element within the broader discipline of Project Management. The basis to successful and effective risk management is a clear understanding of the risks faced by the project. The basis to all risk management is first and foremost: risk identification; however, it must amount to more than simply listing identified risks and characterizing them by their probability of occurrence and impact on objectives.

In everyday life as we interact with our environment we are subject to and develop methods to deal with risk. For example, we may identify that there is a risk that our car will be stolen or damaged. We diminish that risk by ensuring we lock our car doors and park it in well lighted places. These are proactive measures to reduce the likelihood of possible adverse events. This represents one of two broad categories of risk management referred to as risk mitigation. On the other hand, in the scenario above, we may purchase insurance so that we can replace or repair the vehicle should the worst happen. Here we presume a risk event, the theft or damage of our car, has already transpired and, consequently, have ready a pre-planned set of procedures designed to minimize or mitigate the negative impact of such an adverse event. This is referred to as contingency planning and represents the second of the broad categories of risk management. This same thought process in our car sample above is easily extrapolated to project management. [pullquote]Project risk equates to uncertain events that have either positive or negative effects on a project.[/pullquote] It is important to remind ourselves that all projects carry risk through uncertainty. In fact, all project managers should recognize that project management, at its core, is really risk management.

Ultimately, then it is the project manager’s responsibility to ensure project risks are identified and managed. Risk management is an essential function that helps assure that a project meets all objectives from cost to functionality. Literature in the field addresses different statistical methods, mathematical modeling, and formal processes to calculate the probability and impact of risks. Experience, however, shows that using a formal, structured process to handle possible foreseen and unforeseen project risk events minimizes surprises, costs, delays, stress, and misunderstandings. Even though this is so, risk management is not always approached with the same rigor of other project management processes; yet, unmanaged or unmitigated risks are one of the primary causes of project failure. It’s disappointing that many managers believe that in the final analysis, risk assessment depends on subjective judgment. In fact a standardized process for identifying, assessing, and responding to risks should be incorporated in all projects.

Improving project risk management involves both improving the ability to identify and influence risk during the project lifecycle, and embedding risk management into mainstream project delivery. Researchers such as in Nielson (2006), Turnbaugh (2005), and Gray (2008), refer to a set of major processes of project risk management. These processes and variations thereof can be found elsewhere in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) and are typically enumerated as shown below:

Risk Identification—of the project specific risks and their scope.
Risk Classification—of the risks’ category, likelihood, and severity of impact.
Risk Response—to mitigate adverse events or exploit opportunity.
Risk Tracking—to adjust risk responses and controls during project execution.

By identifying risks and potential consequences of risks, the Project Manager can both maximize the results of positive events and minimize the consequences of adverse events. In this way [pullquote]risk management can be leveraged to prevent many risks from turning into project killers[/pullquote]. Project managers and all supervisors with resource control must acknowledge the importance of risk identification as the starting point for an effective risk management process. Particular attention should be given to the necessity of decomposing risk into its component source elements; because risk can only be mitigated at the source.