PMI and other PM associations evangelize the need for organizations to embrace project management as a core competency that is critical to achieving business success. Many companies have made progress towards that lofty goal by incorporating project management training as part of their management or leadership curriculum.
This is a good step but further value could be achieved by mandating all functional managers to manage at least one cross-functional project from initiation to close-out.
Let’s explore the benefits of this radical idea before the complaining begins!
Functional managers are supposed to provide support to project teams in matrix organizations and these responsibilities are usually defined in planning documents and RASCI tables. On occasion, you might even find these expectations captured in job summaries or performance management documents. However, if someone has never managed a “real” project, how can they truly understand the necessity for an providing an appropriate level of support?
Projects are the method by which significant Changes is realized, but not all changes are large enough to merit management through a project – I like to refer to these as changes with a small “c”. While not all nine (soon to be ten!) PMBOK knowledge areas would get exercised, there will still be the need for a functional manager to plan and execute the change with appropriate communication to and engagement of stakeholders. If the functional manager has never managed a project, they may be lacking the necessary experience to effectively implement the change.
On large projects, it may not be efficient for the project manager to plan and track the activities of all team members. They may facilitate the development and maintenance of an overall integrated plan but the work stream specific details may need to be decomposed and managed by functional managers. While these individual work streams cannot be considered a project unto themselves, experience in managing a true project will help functional managers in playing this work stream leader role.
Finally, non-projectized organizations struggle to overcome the silo thinking which influences the behavior of functional managers. Managers can speak conceptually of the benefits of “breaking down the walls”, but they won’t fully appreciate the necessity for this, nor might they see the benefits in true cross-functional alignment. Once they’ve managed a cross-functional project and had to deliver results through influence rather than authority, they are more likely to become true believers.
To plagiarize the popular bumper sticker “If you can’t stand behind our project managers, feel free to stand in front!”