Most workers are familiar and comfortable with working in a chain of command environment. You have one manager, your manager has one manager, and your manager’s manager has one manager and up the chain it goes. Resource planning is simple because you know who reports to whom.
Once you step over into the world of project management, however, you will most likely find a very different structure. This falls into the category of a matrixed organization and requires enterprise resource planning. This is where people may work directly for one manager, but are then put ‘on loan’ to other managers (typically project managers) for the purpose of completing a specific project or initiative within the company. To complicate things more, these same resources may work for multiple project managers on various projects.
The day to day direction, management, and prioritization is handed down from the functional managers. These managers are typically responsible for the employee reviews of the people in their department and approving/denying routine requests such as vacation and time off. They will provide input to the HR department for long-term human resource planning. In most companies, at any moment in time, the direction of the functional manager could supersede the direction of the project manager and throw project schedules into a tizzy.
Add to this, the functional manager just may not like the project manager. This could be either personally or professionally. They may just not get along with you as a person, or, they don’t subscribe to the concept of a project manager in general. They may view it as just another layer of management bureaucracy and complicates their resource planning.
The following are some additional objections you may hear from a functional manager if you are working in matrixed organization.
“You don’t know what you are talking about”
Ouch. That one kind of hurts. Unfortunately, it may be true, especially if you work in a technical environment and did not come up through the technical ranks.There are two career paths where a project manager can begin. The first is from the technical side. This means you have been on the front line, know the ins-and-outs of the work that is being done. You know the shortcuts, you know when to take them and you know when you shouldn’t take them.
The second is from the business side. You may have dealt with clients, finance, or come through the operations department where you used and implemented what was created from the technical team. You understand the business issues, you understand ROI, the need for deliverables to be correct and how to satisfy a business need.
Here’s a warning: Don’t try to fake it as if you have come up through the technical ranks if you haven’t. They will eat your lunch. You will lose credibility instantly and sit there like a deer in the headlights. As a project manager you don’t need to offer technical solutions. Your job is to facilitate and expedite the work getting done and part of that is having the right people (aka the technical team) figure the problem out.
Focus on what you do best and let the technical team focus on what they do best.
“You make things worse”
This is another statement that stings a bit. How could you make things worse as a project manager? Your job is to keep things moving forward and not to introduce confusion or chaos into the mix. Well, if you don’t know what you are talking about from a technical perspective and try to offer solutions, or worse yet, provide technical direction to a technical resource you will indeed make things worse.
Here’s how this plays out. You establish a rapport with one of the technical resources on the team. Their functional manager is busy so they come to you with a question about implementation. The question goes something along the lines of “Should I do it THIS way or THAT way?” In a moment of weakness, you tell them they should do it “THAT way”. Big mistake.They do it THAT way, it breaks a whole lot of other things downstream that you just didn’t know about and it requires late nights, extended time frames and extra cost to fix the mess. No amount of resource planning software will help get out of this mess.
There’s a balance to be had here. It’s not that you’re not going to make any decisions as a project manager. But, clearly know your domain of expertise and the domain of the technical team. You will garner that much more respect and cooperation if you don’t cross that line.
“They are pulled in a million directions already”
This one is most likely true and somewhere you can assist. The better a resource becomes in an organization the more demands will be put upon them. Their insight, guidance and decisions will be needed on multiple fronts, while they work on multiple projects, and undoubtedly put out multiple fires. You can help identify the work that is in process, prioritize what is most important for them, and run interference as much as possible. Technical resources love to get into the zone and be heads down on what they are working on. Help them get there…and stay there.
The nature of the beast is that functional managers are going to be protective of their turf. They have undoubtedly hand-picked their teams and have years of experience together through the good times and the bad. They have their own inside jokes and secret hand-shakes. They don’t want someone from the “outside” stepping all over the turf they have worked so hard to nurture.
Respect that as a project manager. Respect what everyone on the team does. Establish a stellar relationship with the functional manager early on. Sit down with them and find out those areas they are experiencing the most pain and see what you can do to help. Ask them about their experience with project managers prior to you. This will give you a real-time glimpse into what they think about project managers and why they feel that way.
The more you can minimize the resource thrashing that occurs within a department due to poor resource planning, the more valuable you will become to that department. Serve as a buffer between the chaos that occurs on the business side of things and the technical teams. A good 80% of the scenarios that play out on the business side will never make it past the front office. The technical resources don’t need to hear about all the drama. They will appreciate you helping them stay focused on the task at hand.
Ultimately, you will hear the functional manager say “you DO know what you are doing, you HAVE made things better, and now my people are only pulled in a dozen different directions”. Not bad. Now take them to lunch!
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