It bothers me that the way enterprise architects talk about organization structure is so imprecise. Take for example “lattice management”.
There are lots of
consultants and business school pundits talking
about “lattice management structure”, as a quick
Internet search will confirm, and a few business
organizations appear to have adopted some form of
I was in a discussion where someone declared that lattice management was just the same as matrix management. Given the optimistic vagueness with which management
gurus peddle their thinking, and given their propensity
to attach new labels to second-hand concepts, it is hard
to be certain about this. However, there do seem to be
some important differences between matrix management and
Matrix management often looks like an intersection
between two or more hierarchies – so you report up one
management ladder for certain aspects of your work, and
up another management ladder for certain other aspects
of your work, thus solving some problems with the simple
hierarchy. (Opponents of matrix management argue that it
introduces more new problems than it solves.) Whereas
lattice management is being described in terms of
horizontal and diagonal flows, as well as horizontal and
diagonal career moves. Is that the same? Who knows what these descriptions really mean?
According to some accounts of
lattice management, there aren’t any bosses.
My first mentor in data modelling, Raimo Rikkilae, taught me
that every question had three possible answers: zero, one and
many. Thus there are three possible answers to the question “How many bosses do you have?”
Each of these structures offers a different (imperfect)
solution to the problem of accountability. In a lattice
organization, one is primarily accountable to the customer. This relates to what my friend Philip Boxer calls East-West Dominance. See also his post on Architectures that integrate differentiated behaviors, where he indicates the limitations of matrix and the potential of lattice.
The example of Lattice Management that everyone cites is W.L. Gore. Many people complain that this isn’t a perfect implementation
of the Lattice concept. But then I’ve never seen an organization
that implements the Hierarchy or Matrix concept perfectly either.
You might also complain that a singular example is a bit
problematic. There are other singular organizations that attract a
lot of attention, like Semco. Incidentally, according to some
sources, Semco adopted a lattice structure in the mid 1980s, but has
since moved to something even sexier.
But the management literature is teeming with singular or extreme
examples. Amazon whenever the platform business is discussed. Shell
whenever scenario planning is discussed. Apple, Toyota, and so on. If we were to ban singular examples, much of the management literature would disappear.
There may be some extremists who believe that a
lattice management structure is suitable for every
organization, although we might reasonably be
sceptical of such a claim in the absence of much
practical evidence. A more moderate (and more
plausible) position is that many organizations could
benefit from a lattice structure. So we might ask why don’t MORE business
organizations adopt a lattice management structure,
and what inhibits organizations from adopting more
innovative structures that might benefit them.
One likely explanation is that there are some
stakeholders who strongly (if covertly) oppose such
structural change, perhaps because their own
personal power base depends on traditional lines of
Another explanation is that there are some aspects
of organizational structure that are so deeply
embedded that they are hard to change, even when all
stakeholders are willing to change.
In general, there are some kinds of structural
change that a given organization is capable of
adopting, and other kinds of structural change that
would be very difficult if not impossible. This is
undoubtedly something that business architects need
to get a handle on.
Cathy Benko, Molly Anderson and Suzanne Vickberg,
The Corporate Lattice, A strategic response to the changing world of work (Deloitte Review)
Cathy Benko and Andrew Liakopoulos, The Corporate Lattice (Talent Management, Jan 2011)
Cathleen Benko and Molly Anderson, The Lattice That Has Replaced The Corporate Ladder (Forbes March 2011)
Gary Hamel, Innovation Democracy: W.L. Gore’s Original Management Model (Management Innovation eXchange, December 2010)
How “don’t use the B-word” applies in lattice-structure management (MetaFilter, July 2011)
Marie Wiere, The Pros and Cons of a Hierarchy Free (Lattice) Organization Structure (May 2012)