How to Scale Your Engineering With Matrix Management

What is the secret to scaling your engineering team? Matrix management, according to John Pavley.


John leads Viacom’s global media and technology services software engineering, and manages development teams across NYC, London, Berlin, Milan, and Warsaw. In the latest installment of Andela’s CTO webinar series, John answers two questions that are top-of-mind for engineering managers everywhere:


  • “We all want to hire great engineers and have highly collaborative agile teams, but how do we reproduce great hiring and team collaboration at scale and at a fast pace?”
  • “How should we lead our team: like Captain Kirk or Captain Picard?” (Seriously.)




During the webinar, John makes a case for why Picard’s management style, known as “matrix management,” is a superior approach to Kirk’s direct management style, which is similar to what he experienced at Apple in the 1990s. “Steve Jobs and Captain Kirk are famous direct managers,” John says.


“Remember something like 90% of all startups fail and almost all software is delivered late and over budget. The problem isn’t lack of vision, or lack of funding, or lack of an agile process — the problem is direct management.”


Basically, matrix management means that the input of many experts is considered when charting the way forward. Companies like Spotify follow the matrix model to create a culture where autonomous teams drive innovation and deliver results with little or no oversight. As John points out, “you can’t just throw people together with high expectations and expect them to get along and do great work. The secret to scaling engineering without reducing quality is this boring idea called ‘matrix management.’”


Constructive versus Obstructive Matrix Management


The typical knock against matrix management is the idea that employees don’t want two or more bosses. But John differentiates between matrix supervision (“I have too many bosses”) and matrix resourcing (“I’m working with the freedom to innovate, but still working collaboratively towards a common goal”). With matrix resourcing, vertical business units are resourced by cross functional teams.


Want to learn more about how matrix management can work for your engineering team? Watch the webinar on-demand here.

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