The Project Manager, Line Management and Risk

We have a running discussion with some project managers and line managers on the topic of responsibility.  The organization structure is matrix (weak) with seeming aspirations to strong matrix.  The project managers attempting to drive the project are frequently confronted with the line management saying – “it is our responsibility”, or “trust us to deliver”.

So how does a project manager keep the project running according to “plan” if they are not privy to that “plan” or are monitoring key metrics that enable some sort of objective prediction? The answer- they will not be able to.  Matrix organization has come with some difficulties often discussed in terms of the individual project participant (or as some say combatant).  We see numerous articles of the impact of leadership split responsibility on the project team, as the line manager says one thing, and the project manager says another. The turmoil sadly does not really end with the project team members but also extends to the project manager and the line managers.  Differences in direction or risk assessments between the line manager and the project manager can cause great turmoil in the project and stress on the both of these organizations.  Leaving these discrepancies unresolved and visible may aggravate the project team.  Resolving these differences with a collaborative mind is important to maintaining momentum in the project and with the project team.


Consider this story about a global company.  We have a project manager in charge of a team to deliver a new product for the local market.  The project manager and team determine the initial concept for the design and delivery of the product.  After a period, the line management responsible for the delivery decides to move the product to a globally oriented product as part of the functional organization material and interoperability objectives. This move includes impacts to the manufacturing of the product. The new proposal, beside from significant alterations to the fit, include the fact that the selected supplier does not have manufacturing capability on the local content – which is a requirement from the company. Now, this project has just acquired the scope and risks associated with creating a new manufacturing facility on the local continent.  These decisions (changes) are non-trivial and are not solely the purview of the line management.  The changes proposed in this case, have implications on risk, project scope, probability of success and estimated delivery date, a date that the rest of the organization including executives have accepted.

Spending a little more time identifying the key objectives of the project and objectives of the line organization could have prevented this mix up.  This important target or goal of the functional or line organization should have been part of the exposition of the original project objectives.

We can find the compromises by identifying important project objectives, attributes, and metrics that ensure we met those attributes and objectives.  The team can objectively assess the ideas against this prioritized attributes. The risks associated with these ideas likewise assessed collectively helping to identify the action we should take.  Open discourse and resolution of misgivings are the approaches required to maintain team hygiene, find resolution and make progress.  Coercion or forcing the perspective of either the line management or the project management does not maintain the team morale.  Coercion couched in cooperation and compromise is still coercion. Neither should we hide the facts to get our way.  If the line function has a way to achieve the project objectives, it is incumbent upon them to demonstrate the approach and have it stand up to critique.  We can then identify metrics that will confirm or refute the hypothesis. We will discuss some of these examples in our event next month.

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