Who should lead my project?

The company I work for has been going through a new ERP implementation for the last several months.  In the past, for new ERP implementations or for upgrades of existing ERP systems, we have typically cascaded implementations at our regional facilities, beginning with the regional facility with the most demand.  By doing this, we were able to focus our resources in one area and ensure the system functioned properly, including all reports, prior to rolling it out to others.  For this implementation, we elected to go with a “Big Bang” approach, upgrading all facilities simultaneously.  We initially identified several advantages to taking this approach, many of which never came to fruition for various reasons.

Now that we are 6 months into our implementation, it is evident that the “Big Bang” approach was not the appropriate method to take.  For the first 3 months of the implementation, we had IS and IT resources travelling the world to support our various locations to ensure the systems were functioning, not necessarily functioning properly, but just getting basic transactions through. This period of travelling and troubleshooting exhausted our IS and IT resources.  Still, after 6 months, only about 95% of the transactions are flowing correctly and we seem to run into show-stoppers at least once per month.  After that initial 3 month period, when things had settled down on the transactional side, we began the arduous process of getting basic reports to function.  These include financial reporting, financial analysis, production analysis, order management, purchasing, and human resources reports.  These have seemingly been stalled since the implementation began and there is little confidence of it being completed anytime soon.

So, the question becomes: when is the right time to redefine the project manager?  It seems through each phase of the implementation, the project manager has shifted.  It has gone from CIO to Network Director to Systems Director to Applications Director.  This is not to say that each of these individuals isn’t doing everything in their power to ensure these issues get addressed, but there is no consistent list of issues or person to direct concerns to.  There is no project manager interacting with each function defining priorities.  We’re really seeking one point of contact to interact with one single point of contact within each of our functions to take control.  However, there could be political implications to even suggesting a change of project manager.  And, frankly, there may not be anybody willing to take that position as it could have implications on their career going forward.

For this particular project, we defaulted to a project manager in the IS and IT group, but perhaps, we should have considered a more skilled project manager outside of that group that could developed a more reliable risk management plan and mitigated some of those risks prior to the implementation.  The users would have likely been more satisfied with a project manager that is responsive and organized, rather than a project manager that has the technical knowledge of the implementation without the project management skillset. Can functional leaders be expected to efficiently manage projects within their organizations if they span across several functions?

“Welcome to the Matrix”

As my career has progressed, I’ve continually received more and more challenging assignments.  Earlier in my career, these assignments were of an individual nature or required limited additional resources.  However, the projects coming across my desk now are often on global projects that involve resources from various functions in different regions.  To add a degree of difficulty, I recently began reporting in a matrix organizational structure (where I have one direct manager who serves as head of the global business division and one dotted-line manager who serves as head of regional finance).  Additionally, most of the resources I am looking to utilize also report into a matrix organizational structure.  It is not unheard of that the managers of the folks reporting into a matrix organizational structure will have competing or conflicting agendas.  So, even though I am responsible for accomplishing these projects using these resources, they may have a completely different intention and may also be under a considerable amount of stress as they are being torn in different directions. So, I’ve sought out some literature and professional opinions to help alleviate the difficulty I encounter in getting resources on board and interested in these projects.

One such professional opinion is that of Ruth Malloy, global managing director at Hay Group in Boston in a post she made as a guest blogger on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network.  The article can be found at http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/08/become-a-stronger-matrix-leade/ .

In this article, Malloy sought the opinion of business leaders in this same situation where they are managing projects requiring resources, sometimes international, that they have no direct control over.  These leaders were asked what competencies were required to be successful managing projects in a matrix organizational structure.  The results showed that they four main competencies required for managing in this type of environment are: empathy, conflict management, influence, and self-awareness.  Unfortunately, citing other sources in this article, Malloy noted that these skills are not common among employees.

Malloy suggested some high-level efforts that can be used to address these issues common within these types of organizations.  Fostering diversity can help develop these skills because, in doing this, the team members may get exposure to seeing things from a different perspective.  Malloy also suggests having the team members shadow executives to understand the organization as a whole and all the parts that work together to make the organization function.  Additionally, the author finds that a means to show employees different perspectives is introducing rotational assignments.

Fortunately, I have already participated in many of these efforts and can hopefully convince directors at my firm that these are valuable skills and are, in fact, necessary to allow a matrix organization to succeed.  If these directors are convinced that these skills are essential to success, more employees will get the opportunity to participate in these various development programs and we will all possess the skills of empathy, conflict management, influence, and self-awareness to make these organization structure a success and be able to manage projects effectively on a global, cross-functional stage.