This article was written by Zack Scott, Transformational CIO and Lean Evangelist with more than 20 years successfully driving Agile transformations in start-ups, SMEs as well as in corporate organisations from the bottom up as technical leader and architect as well as from top down as senior manager and executive in Europe and Australia.
In this series, Zack will look at the evolution of organisational matrix structures and propose a 3rd dimension to create '3D Lean' - a powerful model to support your Agile Lean Transformation.
The first half of this series - From Silo to Squad, Constantine & Conway, Welcome to the Matrix - has described how the introduction of squads and tribes, chapters and guilds (commonly referred to as matrix structures) has helped to overcome some technical as well as cultural challenges of the last decade. However, many organisations still struggle to unlock the full potential of this structure, unable to apply and align the benefits of this matrix on the ground with other levels and functions in their organisational hierarchy.
Based on Spotify's engineering culture, the rise of matrix structures in IT delivery functions is complemented by Agile practices and DevOps methods. Moving away from well-forecast project based work towards domain and product based models of continuous delivery and experimentation, can create friction between IT delivery and the rest of an organisation, accompanied by technical and cultural challenges and often resulting in wasteful value streams.
Some organisations may even feel inclined to move back towards known waterfall models of delivery to resolve those tensions only to learn that velocity and adapting to customer needs have become crucial factors for successful companies.
The second half of this series will develop the 2D matrix structure further into the 3D Lean model which seeks to overcome and resolve those frictions harmoniously, whilst unlocking efficiencies to remain competitive as organisations evolve.
In a first step for better organisational alignment, the matrix itself provides options to introduce squad and tribe heads as well as chapter and guild leads. These provide both pastoral care as well as technical leadership and support, splitting the traditional forms of line management across the matrix to distribute and balance the managerial workload.
The introduction of this kind of 2D management model seems to be a good compromise between traditional reporting hierarchies and modern matrix structures. Sometimes this new model might show itself in different guises, for example in new roles like 'delivery managers' - for tribe leads - or in re-purposing traditional labels like the 'QA lead' - for a QA chapter lead. As organisations grow and need to scale, the dimensions of the matrix will extend further and introduce more levels like 'senior leads', 'head ofs/HOs' and 'chiefs'.
However, it is vitally important to remain true to the intent and purpose of the matrix in order to combine the needs of functional autonomy and organisational alignment at scale efficiently. But how do these new dimensions of tribes, chapters and guilds (the matrix) align with wider corporate structures?
The matrix' first dimension of squad and tribe leads evolves towards delivery managers DM, PMOs, heads of product, with connections to marketing and CRM/CX, eventually culminating in the CEO.
I call this the axis of the WHY, which provides purpose to what needs to be delivered, (the reason why the organisation exists.) It is the voice of both the customer and the entrepreneur (CEO) who ventures to fulfil the customers' wishes as well as to anticipate their future needs.
The second dimension of chapter leads, tech leads and architects eventually culminates in a chief technician like a Chief (Enterprise) Architect or a CTO.
I call this the WHAT-axis. It provides the technical excellence required to create adequate solutions in response to the organisation's entrepreneurial needs.
Whilst the first axis provides direction in form of goals and objectives - the why - this second axis creates solutions - the what - that will help to reach these goals.
The realm of guilds, for example in matters of information security or diversity, aligns with the offices of the CIO as well as the People & Culture function - or HR in more traditional terms.
This axis provides the technical as well as cultural glue to support the first two axes. I call this the axis of the WHOW- the WHat and hOW.
On the one hand, it further supports the second axis which creates solutions in alignment with the needs of the first axis. On the other hand, this third axis not only contributes to what is being built but also to how this should be done. The third axis combines technical factors with cultural elements of delivery methodologies, operational models and business processes to provide cross-product technical as well as cultural support to create sustainable, adaptive and scalable solutions.
Finally, I introduce a fourth axis that transcends the whole matrix to support the former three axes. This is as much about promoting technical and cultural capabilities as well as introducing to and educating teams and their leaders in Lean principles, Agile practices and DevOps culture.
It might come in guises of coaches and consultants as well as other transformation experts. Somewhat volatile in nature like guilds, this axis also ensures the organisational operating model and coordinates actions, changes and transformations across the whole organisation.
This axis aligns with the COO as well as the CIO and PaC functions. I call this the HOW-axis since it provides the necessary technical, operational and cultural excellence throughout all other axes so that those can achieve the organisational goals together.
Whilst the first two axes try to ensure that an organisation creates the right solutions, the last two axes make sure that these solutions are being built and delivered in the right way - efficiently and sustainably.
These 4 axes will naturally converge towards their ends. Extending the matrix, they will form a 4-ended star-like shape. However, flipping those 4 organisational axes upward at the point where they start to diverge from each other, whilst retaining the matrix as a foundation, will create a 4-sided pyramid instead.
Stay tuned for the next article of this series!
The next article of this series will add depth to the matrix and start exploring the benefits of this new structure and breathe life into 3D Lean.