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Project Management for Beginners and Experts

Episode 212: How Functional Managers can Help Avoid Project Failure (Premium)

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Jack Ferraro, PMPI am once again joined by Jack Ferraro, author of the book “Project Management for Non-Project Managers”  - When I originally opened the book my attention was drawn to a section of the book called “Functional Managers’ Impact on Causes of Project Failure”. In this section Jack describes about 20 areas of functional management responsibility that - if addressed properly by the functional manager - will go a long way in avoiding that a project fails.

But as we have learned in the last interview, functional managers may not actually be aware of project management fundamentals, let alone that some of their areas of responsibility will in fact help us to deliver a successful project. So my primary thought was... how do I as a PM approach my functional manager and tell him or her that I need their assistance in areas such as business politics or lack of organizational support?

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode #212. This is The Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com and I am Cornelius Fichtner. This is a premium episode reserved for our premium members. Since you are hearing this, it means that you are a premium subscriber. So thank you very much for financial support and assistance in keeping The Project Management Podcast™ going.

I am once again joined by Jack Ferraro, author of the book “Project Management for Non-Project Managers”. When I originally opened the book, my attention was drawn to a section of the book “Functional Managers Impact on Causes of Project Failure”. In this section or rather table, Jack describes about 20 areas of functional management responsibilities that if addressed properly by the functional manager will go a long way in avoiding that a project fails.

But as we have learned in the last interview, functional managers may not actually be aware of project management fundamentals let alone that some of their areas of responsibility will in fact help us deliver a successful project. So my primary thought was: So how then do I as a project manager approach my functional manager and tell him or her that I need their assistance in areas such as business politics, lack of organizational support, et cetera?

So without further ado, it’s that Scope Creep I see on your project? Ew! Enjoy the interview.

Podcast Interview

Female voice: The Project Management Podcast’s feature Interview: Today with Jack Ferraro, author, speaker and President of My Project Advisor Incorporated.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello, Jack and welcome back to The Podcast

Jack Ferraro: Hello, Cornelius!

Cornelius Fichtner: So we brought you back for a second interview to continue the discussion on your book “Project Management for Non-Project Managers”. The idea is that we’ll open this up to page 25 and page 25 contains Table 1-1 Functional Managers Impact on Cause of Project Failure.

Now this is a table that shows the functional manager where they can have how much impact on the success of a project. Could you maybe tell us a little bit more about this table? Why is it in the book? What were you trying to achieve by putting it there?

Jack Ferraro: Well, the basic reason is you want to share the blame, just kidding.

Cornelius Fichtner: That’s a good one!

Jack Ferraro: No, I think the reason here is to get functional managers to realize that they play a critical role and can have a critical role on the impact of projects. So we looked at a lot of researcher terms of what causes project failure, what are those root causes and very often these get laid at the feet of project teams or project managers some rightly so. Some, which they really don’t have complete control over. So again, here is this call-to-action to the functional manager that they need to be able to be active participants and provide the necessary skills and knowledge and dedication to the project to make it successful.

Cornelius Fichtner: Okay! Since we have project managers listening in here, what we’re going to do is we’re going to twist this whole approach a little bit. At the end of our first interview, I asked you how am I going to get my functional manager to read your book? So our approach now is: How am I going to get my functional manager to be involved in these areas here? There are 19 or so items in this table.

You have selected the top 5 and we are now going to go through these top 5 from the perspective of us, the project managers and we’re going to discuss: How am I going to bring my functional manager in on this? How can I make sure that he or she gets on to his or her feet and start marching with our project and helps us in this area because these are the 5 areas where the functional manager really has a high impact on the project success and can help us here?

So let’s begin with the first one. The first one that we have chosen is Lack of organizational support. So how do I as the project manager get my functional manager to help me to provide a lot more organizational support than is currently available?

Jack Ferraro: Well there are a couple of things. First of all, having a relationship with the functional manager is key. A productive relationship so there’s got to be a level of credibility and trust that starts to grow between the project manager and the functional manager.

A lot of those things I talked about in my first book “The Strategic Project Leader,” once those things start to be evident, I think one of the things that I would do is really use a very simple statement to get the functional manager to scrutinize and buy in to the project.

And basically what this statement is, let’s say, it’s project x, y, z is going to create something. What is it going to create? Remember if we look at our basic definition in the PMBOK of a project, it’s creating a product, service or result. So the first thing I would complete in that sentence is: This project is going to create something and get the functional manager to review that, articulate on, get feedback, clarify and then I would continue that sentence to say: This creation, this output, this project deliverable will be used by whom? And I would start to articulate with the functional manager: Okay, who actually is going to use this? And this could be a different user groups, it could be the functional manager himself. It could be organizations outside the company who are the primary customers or users of this deliverable

And then the most important part of this discussion to make sure that there is organizational support is to say: Okay, now if they begin to use this successfully, what is the outcome? What is their measured outcome? In other words, what are their benefits of using this product, service or result? And I would try to work with my functional manager to quantify that. So ultimately, I have a statement that says: Project x, y, z would create a website to be used by our business partners to increase sales by 10%.

If we have a statement and something that is clear and concise which I would call a project mission, a clearly defined project mission that can be written and articulated in one sentence that identifies the primary deliverable, the primary customers and measurable benefits, you can then start to find out how much organizational support this project is going to have and if that can be agreed upon and that can be a powerful statement then that can become our mantra as a project team to garner organizational support. If the statement is very weak and it’s very vague and the benefits are very vague and the people who are going to use it are departments and not people and it’s very high level. It’s going to be harder for people to support this. So that is one way of trying to increase a level of organizational support.

I would also encourage project managers to continually revisit throughout the project what we anticipate these measured benefits to be and we have to develop a sense of urgency with our customer, with our functional manager or business leaders to be accountable to deliver those benefits. The idea is that the project team delivers our project deliverable but we have to have the accountability and the buy-in from our functional manager to be accountable for the results. If we don’t see that then as a project manager, we should immediately be reporting back up through our chain of command and our PMO and our executive management teams that we could be potentially spending money here and not achieving the results that we want.

Cornelius Fichtner: You used the word “mantra” and I think that’s probably also a good word to explain that this is not something that you do once because a mantra, you just don’t utter it once and then you’re done. This has to be uttered again and again and again. So if I see this right, there is more involvement required by the functional manager than just do it once and maybe talk to the customer once and talk to the groups out there once and tell them what it is but it’s a repetitive process, right? Keep in touch with them. Keep telling them the mantra. Keep telling them our vision and help us by becoming an advocate of our project, right?

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only. Please subscribe to our Premium Podcast to receive a PDF transcript.

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