When project managers are leading projects in a matrix organization that staffs projects from various departments throughout the organization, then communication is critical. Effective communication between the project manager, the PMO, and the departments that the key project resources are coming from is extremely important if the relationship is going to be a good and productive one – and if you want to continue to get good resources and flexibility from these other departments.
Let’s look at the following steps or actions that need to be taking to improve and maintain the communication and relationships with these other departments.
Visit the other manager before you finalize the schedule
From your point of view, it might seem that a given schedule has to go into effect. For example, the project deadline allows little room for change, and an employee from another department has been placed on your team by the company president. So why contact the team member’s supervisor? Everything has been settled.
Because no matter how restricted you are by the deadline, and no matter how little say you have been given in picking your team, you must be prepared to make changes to accommodate the other manager. Plan to discuss the employee’s involvement well before you finish your schedule. Take this approach: Ask for a meeting with the other manager. Present your initial schedule, explaining that it is only preliminary; and state clearly that the purpose of the meeting is to determine whether your schedule will present any problems in that other department.
Keep in touch while the project is underway
Continue to keep the lines of communication open. Even when the manager has agreed to your schedule, unexpected scheduling conflicts can and do come up later.
You can avoid conflict by keeping in touch with the manager throughout the project period. A weekly status check may be all that’s required. In a three-minute telephone discussion, you can go over the team member’s commitments for the week, ensuring that there are no problems. If the other manager is given an unexpected, perhaps separate, project, that assignment could create tremendous problems for both of you. By working together, you will be able to resolve them, but if you don’t stay in touch, the difficulty could grow into a serious conflict in priorities.
Work with the manager to anticipate problems
In addition to the review, look to the end of your project. Point out the phases that will require an especially heavy time commitment, and ask the other manager, “Do you expect this to create a problem in your department?”
Most managers will appreciate your consideration, and will gladly work with you to resolve any upcoming difficulties. It’s only when you don’t anticipate future problems that conflict arises, obscuring your priorities and jeopardizing the relationship between you and the other manager.
Remain as flexible as possible
Remember that few departments can judge very far in advance the demands that will be placed on them from above. It’s frustrating when another manager affects your scheduling by pulling a team member out of a commitment in order to work on other jobs. This is not necessarily because he or she is devious or disorganized. It may simply characterize that department.
Stop and think whenever you find yourself about to say, “You told me this wouldn’t be a problem.” At the time, the manager was probably telling you the truth. But since then, the department’s assignments, deadlines, and priorities have changed. Successful project managers are those who are able to stay on schedule and within budget, even when team members are taken away at the last minute. You may have to shift jobs or take over a phase yourself. Regardless of the inconvenience, though, remain flexible when dealing with another manager.
Confront the problems, not the people
In some instances, other managers may seem unreasonable, defensive, or uncooperative; they may feel threatened by having an employee taken away from them to work on your project.
Territorial reaction is one form of “corporate neurosis.” Your refusal to tolerate it won’t solve the problem. Nor will confronting the manager directly; that only aggravates the situation. Remember, the best solution is to concentrate on the problem the reaction creates, not to become distracted by the personal reaction itself.
When a manager resists your efforts to commit an employee, emphasize the schedule and deadline. Ask the manager to suggest a solution that satisfies the departmental needs as well as the project schedule. Avoid the distraction of arguing about personal priorities, and concentrate on executing the task.