Working cross-functionally poses a challenge for any project leader. Team members have functional commitments and loyalties. Resource area leaders have functional goals and priorities.
—By Cathy Cassidy, Managing Director, International Matrix Management Institute
7 Tips for Leading Cross-Functional Projects
It usually falls on the shoulders of the project leader to lead teams that are cross-functional within an organization that is aligned functionally. These seven tips will help you define and create alignment to cross-functional team goals without needing authority.
1. Begin With Clear Direction and Strong Sponsor Support
Ask your sponsor for a charter that outlines the expectations, limits, and priorities of the project. If your sponsor doesn't write the charter themselves, write it with them or write it for them and review it in-depth with them. Make sure your sponsor signs off on the charter before you begin planning the project.
2. Involve team members in project planning
Use a collaborative project leadership approach that encourages team participation in the planning process. Participation builds understanding, commitment, and accountability to the project. You may need to learn how to use new facilitation skills to help you shift from a directive to collaborative approach.
3. Make Sure Key Resource Areas Are Represented on the Team
Assign a team member liaison to communicate with stakeholders who do not have representation, and create a communications plan for engaging all stakeholders. Copy resource area leaders on all status reports and ask team member representatives to review the project status reports with their resource area leaders.
4. Review the Completed Project Plan With Each Resource Area Leader
Don't begin the execution phase of the project without an approval from each resource area leader. If they’re unwilling to sign off on the completed project plan, find out what changes are required in order to gain their approval. Approval of the plan signals their commitment to provide the resources listed in the plan.
5. Share Project Ownership With the Team Throughout the Process to Maintain Commitment
Do this by ensuring team participation when creating the plans, during status reviews, when evaluating change requests and when identifying and analyzing problems. Lead the team through a process of deciding on the best course of action when problems arise. By letting them “own” the problem and create a solution, they remain committed to the project’s success.
6. Ask Your Sponsor for Help When You Can't Resolve a Problem on Your Own
Your sponsor should be in a better position than you to lobby resource leaders for support. They can also escalate issues for you. Ensure the sponsor’s involvement by inviting them to review the charter and project plan with the team at the kick-off meeting, issuing regular status reports, holding regular project review meetings and soliciting their feedback on the performance of the project and on your own performance throughout the process.
7. Ask the Resource Area Leaders for Feedback Throughout the Project
You can get feedback through face-to-face meetings and/or through simple feedback survey forms. Report the results of the survey back to the resource leaders along with your action plan for dealing with any issues raised.
Following these seven tips will help you successfully lead cross-functional projects in matrix organizations.
As the Managing Director of the International Matrix Management Institute, Cathy helps organizations and practitioners adopt the skills and methods they need to succeed in today’s complex, dynamic environment. She is a Matrix Management 2.0™ Master Consultant and the author of several books on matrix management, including her most recent publication, Managing Projects in a Matrix. She is a key contributor to the Matrix Management 2.0™ Body of Knowledge, co-developer of the Matrix Management 2.0™ organizational operating system, and a lead developer for the company.