Need to Know vs. Nice to Know: PM’s and Functional Managers- a critical partnership

Posted on January 27, 2011 by



Is your communication with functional managers the missing piece?

Part of the project manager’s (PM) role is to delegate tasks to resources to get the work done.  Mostly these people report to functional managers, not the PM leading the project.

So, what do you do when assigned tasks don’t get done because a resource’s first allegiance is not to the project, but to their functional organization?  One PM expressed this frustration about a one  month work assignment:  they created a WBS and schedule, consulted with the resource one month in advance, assigned the work to the individual and even followed up via e-mail two weeks before the work was due to make sure it was on schedule.  Lo and behold, two days before the work was due, the person told their manager (not the PM) that they did not have the work done.  What did the PM miss?  There were several triggers that indicated more extensive quality control as well as better partnering should have been conducted.

First, that resource was known to have a history of being behind in their workload.  Sniffing the air as a good PM detective may have been in order.  It’s kind of what my dog instinctively does when she’s trying to figure out what’s for dinner.  As this was the case, asking, rather than seeing what they have produced leaves us at risk of getting fluff or nothing.  Many employees are well-meaning, but when the boss’s demands take precedence over project work, they don’t see our project as critical.  This person did not understand the larger meaning of their work as a link in a very important chain.  Did they communicate their project responsibilities to their manager?

Second, starting at the beginning, was a project kickoff meeting conducted?  Was the project team aware of key phases and deliverables? Were performance reports and follow-up discussed?  Was there a backup, peer review or “buddy” system employed (obviously not)? Did senior management know their resources’ schedule and deliverables? Did the PM copy them in on the important documents and e-mails associated with the project?  Were virtual team members and communication a part of this team?

Third, with the current push towards tools such as Microsoft SharePoint and other web enabled document capture systems, functional management may be more out-of-the-loop than in the good old days when e-mail was the primary source of communication.  As annoying as it may be, each employee’s functional manager must be copied in on key documents and communication.  They are responsible for “watching your back” as you are both responsible to the higher levels in the organization to meet mutual goals.

Finally fourth, knowing this was a risky resource, the PM should have scheduled weekly product reviews within the month, instead of just asking for a status update.  Let’s assume this was a research paper.  A WBS dictionary item could have been written for the paper.  This could have included the paper’s format, size, resource publications, SME’s, etc.  An outline of the paper may have been due at the end of the first week.  At the end of the second, 50% of the content, etc should have been delivered.  This could have been peer reviewed according to a schedule with the functional manager copied in.  The ball was dropped by the resource, but the PM and senior management also should be faulted for not having a better partnership and control system in place.

By Meryl Rowley, PMP®

Journey Beyond Inc.  Organizational Development Consulting