Does the matrix organization still have its raison d’être

by 22. February 2024Organization

Does the matrix organization still have its raison d’être

by 22. February 2024Organization

Developing new drugs is no easy undertaking. It is complex, risky and expensive. One of the key challenges for successful drug development is to ensure effective and targeted collaboration between the countless experts and specialists required for long-term product development.

This fact presents pharmaceutical and biotech companies with the central task of installing a suitable organizational form in the company that meets the requirements mentioned.

Buzzwords such as “working in network organizations or “working in agile teams” are topics that also need to be examined in the field of drug development. Nevertheless, I would like to take this opportunity – although controversially discussed by many – to take up the cudgels for the matrix organization as a suitable form of organization. Because if it is “lived correctly”, it is a guarantee for successful drug development.





If you analyze pharmaceutical and biotech companies with matrix organizations, they very often focus on the “engine of product development” – the cross-functional product development teams that drive drug development. Here, companies invest a lot of time and money to optimize the ideal composition of the teams and the work in the teams through team development and project management.

What is neglected in most companies, however, is the focus on the second component of the matrix – the specialist departments.

The specialist departments and their managers are often wrongly reduced to the role of “resource providers” instead of understanding and using them as the “oil of the drug development engine”.

Without them, there is a lack of development expertise and resources to carry out the necessary work for the projects. Furthermore, as selected members of the cross-functional development teams, they also have the essential role of establishing and maintaining the link between the project team and the specialist department. This organizational principle can only work if both components of a matrix are optimally interlinked and “lubricated”.

Matrixorganisation, Fachabteilung, Sandra Dreyer

Furthermore, you should keep in mind that not all oils are the same A tractor needs a different engine oil than a Formula 1 racing car. To make the matrix organization highly efficient and thus the company successful, you need a high-performance engine oil that combines the components of technical expertise, development experience, leadership, transparent communication and teamwork.


Unfortunately, in many matrix organizations I repeatedly come across major deficits, especially in the specialist departments, which unfairly cast the matrix organization in a bad light.
5 core aspects stand out particularly:

1. The lack of defined roles and responsibilities for the department heads in a project and matrix-organization context. Clearly defined and practiced roles for drug development exist for the players in the project teams (project managers & team members) – but often not for the heads of the specialist departments.

2. Deficient information and communication loops between teams and specialist departments. The reason: the managers heading the specialist departments do not feel obliged to actively drive the information loop between the project teams and their own department in both directions.

3. Lack of anchoring of the development projects in the specialist departments. The department heads do not establish a platform for the joint exchange of information and learning from the respective projects within their own department.

4. Department heads do not optimally fulfill their role as decision-makers and/or “challengers” in management committees. In established management / governance bodies for product development, the department heads are often not the actual decision-makers and/or do not optimally fulfill their role as experts and, above all, as “challengers”.

5. Early-stage biotech companies: investing too late in experienced managers as department leaders. The decision to operate as a drug development company requires a thorough analysis of the suitability and experience of existing managers in the specialist departments and, if necessary, investment in employees with more leadership, development and matrix experience.

My conclusion is therefore: in a functioning matrix, strong and experienced department heads deploy experienced experts with good communication and leadership skills to the project teams as functional team members, support them with everything they need for their work and continuously discuss the actual status of the development projects with them.

The department heads interfere as little as possible in the day-to-day work of the project teams but keep an eye on the development projects from their functional perspective (portfolio view). If necessary, the department head provides expert input into the project via the team member from his/her own department.

An astonishing side effect: the responsible team members from the specialist departments then often automatically do for the projects what their superiors would do in their place.