TechRepublic columnist Tom Mochal receives dozens of e-mails each week from members with questions about project management problems. Mochal shares member questions—and the answers he provides—in a column each month. So often, IT pros tell TechRepublic that they receive the most insight when they learn about real-life situations that other IT pros are facing.

Question: How can I convince other managers to share staff?
I am a project manager in a small organization. At any given time, I have a number of projects that I am managing. I need to work with the functional managers to gain resources for these projects. The process of gaining resources can be difficult. Do you have any advice on how to work better with these managers so that I can get the resources I need to complete my projects successfully?—Connie

Answer: Focus on planning and communication
First, let’s be sure we all understand basic organizational structure. The three common structures in place are:

  • Functional: In a functional organization, people are organized into functional specialties such as the finance department, the marketing department, and the IT department. Projects are staffed with people from within the organization. Generally, your functional manager is also responsible for the success of the projects.
  • Projectized: In a projectized structure, staff members are all aligned around major projects. For instance, you may have an organization built around the building and deployment of a weapons system for the Department of Defense. All the people that are required for the project are assigned full time to the project. This team might include IT, manufacturing, procurement, finance, etc. The overall project manager is the functional head as well.
  • Matrixed: The third option is a hybrid of the two structures—the matrix organization. People are all assigned full time to a functional organization but may also be temporarily assigned full time or part time to a project. In this case, the functional manager may be responsible for part of a team member’s workload, with a project manager responsible for assigning the work associated with the project. The matrix is especially efficient if your project does not require a full-time commitment from people in the supporting organization.

The matrixed organization is the most efficient at utilizing people’s time and skills. However, it only works if the functional manager and project manager recognize the challenges and work together for the company’s overall benefit.

Establish a planning window
You appear to recognize this challenge and are looking for ways to improve your allocation processes. You probably know this already, but you need to focus on two areas: planning and communication.

First, you need to maintain a planning window of upcoming projects and an estimate of the resources you will need. If your staffing requirements flux widely from month-to-month, or if you don’t have a lot of lead time on projects, you can plan ahead using a three-month rolling window.

You should update and refine the plan each month. The upcoming month’s plan should be pretty firm. Two months out should be pretty close to complete. Complete entries for three months out and beyond with your best guess. If the time frame for your projects is longer, or your staffing plan is relatively firm, you may want to maintain a three quarter (nine month) planning window and update the plan every quarter.

Launch a communication plan
A proactive communication initiative should follow the planning phase. Schedule a monthly staffing meeting that includes the appropriate project and functional managers who share a common pool of resources. Remember that you need the resources to do your work, but you do not own them—the functional managers do. So, the onus is on you to make sure that the resources are available when you need them and that there are no surprises.

For instance, if you and the functional manager agree that a specific set of people will be available for one of your projects in two months, don’t just show up in two months and expect them to be ready to go. In fact, if you haven’t communicated proactively, it is likely the staff won’t be ready to go.

I would recommend that you make the agreement two months in advance and confirm it again at the next monthly staffing meeting. Then you should double-check resources again two weeks before the start date and follow-up with a reminder one week out.

Resources are much more likely to be available when you need them if you take these proactive steps.

After establishing a good planning process, you should obtain a resource allocation tool to organize your company’s shared staff. Although there are resource allocation tools on the market, an organization your size should be able to utilize a simple spreadsheet.

Place people and skills on the rows, projects, and dates in the columns, and then note at the intersection how many hours a person is needed for a project.

For larger organizations, a specialized resource/workload planning and tracking software package may be appropriate. You can document a skills inventory for each person and use it to match resources and skills needed in future projects.

You are not alone in trying to optimize resources within a matrixed organization. You can get software to help make this easier, but software is just a tool. Your success in managing resources in a matrixed organization depends on  these basics:

  • Have good planning processes in place.
  • Maintain a good partnering relationship with the functional managers.
  • Communicate proactively and effectively.

Project management veteran Tom Mochal is director of internal development at a software company in Atlanta. Most recently, he worked for the Coca-Cola Company, where he was responsible for deploying, training, and coaching the IS division on project-management and life-cycle skills. He’s also worked for Eastman Kodak and Cap Gemini America, and has developed a project management methodology called TenStep.
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