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.

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.