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Matrix organization, the hidden power behind mankind’s first moon landing

 

01The space industry was fiercely competitive as armament expansion between the US and the Soviet Union was rife in the Cold War era.

The US, which had continuously lagged one step behind the Soviet Union, attempted to achieve the first visit by mankind to the moon, aiming to reverse the situation. On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11, carrying Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, was launched into space. The result was successful, as everyone knows. It was a monumental event in human history that will be remembered for a long time, an event where men first stood on the moon and returned to earth safely.

Up until then, as said before, the United States had been consistently trailing behind the Soviet Union, and as one of the reasons why the United States was able to pull off this achievement suddenly, the press at that time pointed at “matrix organization”. What is the matrix organization that made the historic Apollo 11’s landing on the moon and returning to the earth possible ?!

When you hear the word "matrix", what comes to mind would usually be these images:

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A matrix organization is managed under two command and control axes, vertical and horizontal, as the word "matrix" means "an arrangement of horizontal rows and vertical columns". To put it simply, experts in the technical department belong to the project team when there is any project. Because they belong to two teams, individual technical competence can be developed in the technical department and product research and development can be achieved in the project team.

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[Lutronic has successfully introduced matrix organization]

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Though matrix organization is very good in theory, it is said that the expected results are not achieved when actually operated. About 75% of organizations that have adopted a form of matrix organization have either failed or not achieved the expected results. But, Lutronic became one of the leading companies that have successfully operated under a matrix organization.

Through tremendous efforts, Lutronic has derived and classified all of the technologies required for flagship product development and divided them into 4 core technologies: Optical laser technology, optical structure & drive technology, electronic control technology, and power electronics technology. It subsequently formed the organization centered around the classified technology groups, and introduced the matrix structure which separately constructs a project corresponding to each product.

On the other hand, Lutronic has also suffered from a matrix organization crisis. As the project teams got firmly established as organizations, technology-focused operation was often difficult. Additionally, their development of individual capability of the R&D members was not well executed due to lack of support for systems allowing capability improvement. The situation was the result of not having an adequate operating infrastructure to properly support the matrix organization system.

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[Advancement of Lutronic’s matrix organization]

After realizing the importance of technological development and various changes in the management environment, Lutronic transformed the R&D Center into the R&D Division. It reorganized the operation structure and embarked on improvement. On the whole, 5 improvement initiatives have been applied.

1. Reorganization of the R&D Center operation structure

The first improvement effort was on the R&D Center operation structure. A new R&D Division Head was recruited, who was given the authority to operate allocation of the budget. This laid the foundation for independent promotion and execution of various activities within the Technology Part.

2. Improvement of the HR evaluation system

The Project Team Leader, who is directly responsible for project results, used to have the authority to evaluate personnel, which stunted the basic roles of the Specialized Technology Part. To improve this situation, the authority to evaluate personnel was reallocated to the Head of Technology Department and the Development Manager, based on the importance of the individual situation, followed by fine-tuning of the balance between the Technology Part Team and the Project Team.

3. Strengthening the role of Technology Part Leader

Lutronic believes that it is important to develop and operate a variety of programs to enhance the capability of the R&D Division members. It gave the Technology Part Leader the authority to conduct competence building activities such as training and seminars once a month at the minimum. These activities have created a framework that can lead to creation of new product ideas for each product line.

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4. Establishment of a system of better leveraging contributions of R&D Division members

Lutronic set up the guidelines whereby business promotion or product development plans must be shared with the Development Manager and Specialized Technology Part Leader or the R&D Division Head at the planning stage, before personnel deployment. This is based on the belief that the cross-checking of dependence between business and technology needs to strengthened, to achieve a balanced development between the two components.

5. Ensuring the management’s commitment to continuous support

Lastly, Lutronic ensured that there is commitment to consistent support of the management team including the CEO and exchanges with prime overseas research institutions, and built a network for leveraging them. Lutronic started to provide members, who are recognized for their academic education needs, with the opportunities to study in Master's or Doctor's degree courses in Korea or abroad, allowing them to broaden their perspectives, thereby strengthening the retention of key people and giving them further development opportunities. With improvements achieved in various respects, Lutronic became increasingly resilient and began to produce stronger business results.

A successful matrix organization is more than just a structure composed of squares and lines. A matrix organization is bound to fail when good results are expected simply because a matrix organization has been implemented. The structure of a matrix organization will offer great value only when there is close cooperation among its internal members and the full support of the management. By learning from the example of Lutronic's successful matrix organization, many R&D-oriented companies should be able to grow to be better companies.