Tuesday, 18 March 2008 03:30

Breaking Down the Functional Silos

Written by Mike Lecky
Project managers can leverage several integration tools to make their work easier and complete projects with greater assurance that they will achieve the expected benefits.

What are these integration tools?

They come in several forms and extend beyond the project-centric processes outlined in the integration knowledge area of the PMBoK. Examples of organization-centric integration tools are SDLC and change management processes, and enterprise risk and project portfolio management programs.

These activities are management controls that cross functional boundaries. When management supports these controls they become very effective tools to ensure the right projects get the right resources at the right time.

Traditional functional groups are effectively silos and are limited by the budgeting process. Allocation of resources to projects often suffers due to political agendas or to ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease’ syndrome.

Project managers struggle in these environments to properly resource their projects with the people they need. Strong project-based matrix organizations experience less tension between the functional structure, which tend to be vertical in nature, and the more horizontally focused projects. Nevertheless, these still experience some inefficiency in project execution due to conflicting priorities of functional and project managers.

So how do these organization-centric integration tools help?

Perhaps the more significant contribution is the increased transparency across the organization that these processes and programs bring. For example, a management review of the project portfolio dashboard is certain to prompt action, if a key project is noted consistently to be under resourced and behind schedule.

Similarly SDLC processes are well-understood, staged frameworks for cross-functional development teams to follow. Functional managers and the individuals in these teams become accountable for deliverables within these processes largely because they understand their role.

The same is true for the change management process which governs what, how and when changes to business processes will be conducted. In both cases clearly defined controls in the form of events such as change board meetings require multi-functional representation. Because of these integrating processes, the priorities of the functional groups transitions from department-specific, internal goals to supporting cross-functional project initiatives.

Recently, I’ve noted more than a few organizations that have taken an additional step to facilitate integration and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their projects and programs. They’ve altered the organization structure to align developers to the more horizontally oriented project teams rather than to the hierarchical functional groups. The change is aimed at improving resource allocation and has the effect of transitioning an existing matrix organization to a more project-oriented and less functional operating framework.

This sort of change has been shown to reduce overhead costs and contention between functional and project managers. I like it because it goes another step towards making the project manager’s job easier by helping them leverage organization-centric tools even more.

 


Mike Lecky is a consultant at The Manta Group, a management consulting company specializing in IT governance, Project and Portfolio Management, Service Management, Risk and Compliance. Mike has degrees from the University of Waterloo (BScEng), The University of Western Ontario (MBA) and the University of Liverpool (MScIT). He worked for 12 years in aerospace electronics and as a Project Engineer managed several general aviation and US Military contracts. He teaches project management online with the School of Applied Technology at Humber College. Now, with over 25 years experience, he is a PMP and an information security professional (CISSP) and has a broad range of program and technology implementation experiences in the high tech and service sectors. Mike can be reached at mike.lecky@mantagroup.com

 

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