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Matrix Maturity – a Case Study

Matrix Management Results

This month we are looking at the concept of matrix maturity – the ongoing growth and optimization of an organizational matrix as its members develop a deeper understanding of their roles within it. As a case in point, we offer the Grocery Manufacturers Association – a trade association headquartered in Washington, D.C.


The Organization: Grocery Manufacturers Association

Grocery Manufacturers Association Logo

Founded in 1908, Grocery Manufacturers Association, or GMA as it is commonly known, is an active, vocal advocate for its member companies and a trusted source of information for the consumer packaged goods industry and the products consumers rely on and enjoy every day.  The association and its member companies are committed to meeting the needs of consumers through product innovation, responsible business practices and effective public policy solutions.

The Problem: an Ever-Growing Inventory of Project Work

In 2008, GMA was making plans to celebrate its 100th anniversary. The association had just completed a merger, added a significant number of new members, and reduced its overall employee headcount anticipating synergies gained through centralized operations and administration.

But a problem was emerging. The inventory of project work was ever-growing, employees were stretched too thin, deadlines were slipping and members – the lifeblood of the association – were beginning to express concerns. According to Carla Mitchell, GMA’s human resources executive, “It was clear to us that we needed help prioritizing the workload and aligning our efforts across the organization so that we could deliver the results our members wanted.”

The Solution: Moving the Organization Forward With Matrix Management 2.0™

Enter new President & CEO Pamela Bailey who took the helm at GMA in January 2009.  She quickly recognized that GMA needed to clearly state and gain member approval for its strategic priorities, get a realistic assessment of its staff capabilities and capacity, and make cross-functional and collaborative work across the organization a reality.

With the help of Cathy Cassidy of The Matrix Management Institute, the GMA senior leadership team undertook a major “retooling” of the association’s workflow and planning processes. By the end of 2009 they had moved the organization forward using the Matrix Management 2.0™ approach:

  • The strategic plan was updated, re-focused and re-defined.
  • Strategic “focus areas” were identified — work was either aligned with a strategic area of focus or phased out/dropped.
  • Within each strategic focus area, the ongoing issue work was identified and resourced. Then the senior leadership team (organized as a strategic steering council) considered, defined and prioritized projects.
  • Finally, the strategic steering council initiated a process to review all new work proposals to ensure appropriate alignment with strategy and to confirm that funding and personnel were available to complete the work. GMA was optimizing resources within each strategic focus area.

MaturityThe Results: Clear and Immediate

The senior leadership team began to understand and implement matrix management concepts. Cathy Cassidy provided expert guidance as the executives developed and implemented new systems for managing workflows. All GMA staff received training in basic project management skills – everyone started to see how important it is to align work with strategic objectives, to define project scope before committing to deliverables, and to ensure appropriate funding and resources are available to meet the expectations of members.

The implementation of this new approach included some typical pushback from supervisors and other employees. There were questions about lines of authority – the concept of shared accountability took time to sink in. Staff started to talk about wearing “two hats” – one hat for resource management and one hat for project management. The association had to learn new ways of engaging members to prioritize and resource work. But overall the results were clear and immediate:

  • The strategic project list shrank to less than 20 at any given time
  • The staff was clear about priorities
  • Quality work was being delivered on time and on budget
  • Members were happy

Future Focus: Looking Forward to the Next Stage of Matrix Maturity

Fast forward to 2013, and you will find that GMA is an organization that has matrix management firmly embedded in its work culture. “We are looking forward to the next stage in our matrix management maturity,” comments Mitchell. Future work will focus on training and supporting middle managers to function in project steering councils aligned with strategic areas of focus.

The association continues to provide training and tools to enable project team leaders to lead without formal authority, and GMA senior leadership continues to refine its ability to optimize work across its various strategic focus areas through the strategic steering council. The association knows that it has more work to do, but GMA and its members are encouraged by the progress it has already made


Mistina Picciano

As Managing Editor of OD Innovator, Mistina Picciano combines her passions for communication and peak performance. She researches and writes about leading practices to help individuals and organizations realize their greatest potential.