Putting the “Functional” back in PM’s relationships with managers!

An assertion I’ve frequently made is that very few organizations have the luxury of having sufficient skilled staff that can be dedicated 100% to delivering all of their “must do” projects.  I’m not going to argue for the rationale of cutting your (portfolio) coat according to your cloth – in spite of the objective evidence disproving the merits of excessive multitasking, decision makers persist in executing more projects than they can comfortably handle.

Knowing that project managers will be in direct competition with one another for the best staff to work on their projects, it seems illogical that the relationship between the PM role and the functional manager role is as poor as it is in many organizations.  Improving relationships is rarely a one-sided effort, but to quote Miyagi-san: “Best way to avoid a punch, no be there“.

Here are a few suggestions to make friends and influence people:

  1. Satisfaction = Perception – Expectations.  If you don’t set expectations with functional managers regarding normal “rules of engagement”, don’t be surprised if their perception of your interactions is not favorable.
  2. Avoid surprises.  It sounds boring, but predictability will be appreciated by functional managers as it removes at least one element of uncertainty from their daily routine.  The more proactive you are at communicating changes to expected demand for their staff, the better they can address the impacts of such changes.
  3. What else is going on?  If multitasking is inevitable, at least understand what else the team members you have been given will be expected to work on, and make sure you get a clear understanding of what the functional manager feels is the #1 priority for each of those team members.
  4. Use staff wisely.  Nothing is as frustrating to a functional manager as finding out that the staff they allocated to a project (usually at the expense of other projects) are being used ineffectively.  Sometimes this is a valid complaint, but going back to point #1 above, if you haven’t taken the time to walk the functional manager through the specific activities that their staff will be working on AND if you haven’t regularly stayed in touch with them to reinforce the importance of this work, the frustration might be the result of poor perception.
  5. Let them know how their staff did.  Whether your organization has a formal team member evaluation process or not, something as simple as a quick e-mail message (or better yet, a handwritten note) thanking them for their staff’s participation and providing constructive feedback on what went well and what could be improved is likely to be appreciated.
  6. Find out how YOU did.  Once the dust has settled during project closeout, but before you move on to your next project, meet briefly with each of your key functional managers and ask them how they felt things were.  That way, if there are specific areas of concern, you have the ability to address those with them the next time you will be drawing on their resources.

While project and functional manager interactions often feels like the cartoon conflict between Ralph E. Wolf and Sam Sheepdog, just remember that even those characters were able to “punch out” at day’s end and maintain an overall amicable relationship!

Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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