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As a newbie project manager, I am leading an effort to transition data from one department to another. My counterpart in the other department acts as interface with their development staff.

I am having a really hard time getting any traction on this project. Action items I get her to commit to either fall thru the cracks, remain in hers or the developer's work queue for days without update or get delivered half complete or incorrectly.

I called my counterpart to get a feel for the situation and she told me flat out "I am the problem". Trying to keep a neutral and positive attitude, I told her that my goal is to get this done for the company's benefit and I will do my best to help her get anything she needs to get the work done.

In spite of that, nothing has changed. I understand that her group is understaffed but that should be an "excuse" for failing to deliver. My weekly status reports to her are ignored. And my boss's attitude is "figure it out".

What can I do?

  • Who is the project's sponsor? – Mark Phillips Apr 6 '12 at 20:22
  • Our VP wants to us to transition all data processing to IT. I guess this makes him our sponsor, per se. – Chris Apr 6 '12 at 20:31
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"Action items I get her to commit to...." There is a lot that goes into getting a project underway when using shared resources where the PM has very limited authority and control over necessary staff to get this done. One of the biggest sort of enablers to help get the team onboard and committed is to get them involved in a very real way in the planning of the work. If they helped plan it, helped estimate it, designed how things would get done, were part of creating the rules of engagement, roles, responsibilities, etc., then buy-in is much much much more likely. The sentence I captured in quotes indicates/implies a separation between you and the rest of the team. Notwithstanding she "committed" to the action items, I question the the degree of commitment. It could be more, I'll say what you want to hear so you'll get out of my office.

Go back to the drawing board, pull your team in, and get them involved in a real way. It'll be a first step towards teaming with a sense of collective success and collective failure. Without that, you're spinning your wheels.

  • The original work was designed by our department. Their work is more or less a "switch on/switch off" of database code. There is nothing to design on their side. There is nothing to plan, design or estimate either. There is indeed a separation has two different departments are involved (we're operations, they're IT). How can I get them involved in a real way knowing that? – Chris Apr 6 '12 at 20:28
  • Got it. This is a sponsor issue. Escalate the issue and risks. The sponsor, who is the project charter creator, needs a get your a__ onboard meeting. Without him/her, your likelihood is degraded. figure it out is not the answer. – David Espina Apr 6 '12 at 20:42
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Your boss' attitude is very interesting, because in my opinion he is one of the key player in this case. He should help you to learn how to handle similar situations since you are new in this position. Can you talk to him face to face and discuss this?

Anyway, I would use assertive communication if were you. Organize a meeting with your boss and counterpart and express your concerns, and ask them for their help. Tell them that you feel that the project will fail if we continue like this and you together should share responsibility for the project. Prepare for the discussion and try to keep them in the meeting until a decision is made which satisfies your needs.

Unfortunately, these situations happen all the time mostly with remote projects. There are different agendas you might not know and even if you try everything, nothing will happen. Making these agendas disappear you need a help from higher management.

  • Indeed, I do feel that the project will fail and I'll end up being penalized for it comes performance review. Because I am such a newbie PM, I am lacking the experience to deal with this kind of situation and it's impacting my productivity, confidence and focus. I will most certainly give your idea a try. Thank you. +1. – Chris Apr 10 '12 at 17:37
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It sounds like there is a lot of separation between the two teams, which may contribute to an "us versus them" type environment.

In my experience working on cross-team projects, I've found that things get done much faster when an actual cross-functional team is formed. The cross-functional team could consist of members of your team and members of the other team. Perhaps you could even get them to sit together in the same office part of the day. If the teams are remote, a Google Hangout may help bring the people together.

Collaboration by working together may help build the rapport necessary to get people to rally around the schedule you've created.

However, keep in mind that even as a cross-functional team, you won't have formal authority, and as a PM you'll have to work on building the personal relationships necessary to lead the team to success.

  • Too bad I can only +1 your post. +2 would be better. You put the finger on the problem. There's a lot of "us versus them" going around, seemingly due to people having been "burned" in the past working with our IT. How do you build constructive relationship off of that? I am trying to remain neutral but so far, I've ended up frustrated and with no deliverables. – Chris Apr 10 '12 at 17:42
  • @Chris - "Us versus them" attitudes happen a lot whenever groups are separated. That's why I think it's better to mix different departments together in seating arrangements. Familiarity helps eliminate us vs them. – jmort253 Apr 11 '12 at 7:17
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When working with people in other departments, it's generally better to get things done with their support rather than going over their heads. Find out what your counterpart's incentives are, and how this project can help or hurt them, and relate the action items to these incentives in the language of her department. Until you do this, you can't assume that she is incompetent or just being difficult.

Now let's say walking a mile in her shoes doesn't work, and you HAVE to go over her head....

First decide if the bigger issue is just attitude, or if it's competence too. If it's only attitude, you can win by being hyper-organized, keeping everything agreed to in meetings notes and an easy to understand spreadsheet. Copy her boss and yours on everything. If need be, copy the junior-most person with joint responsibility for your departments too. The attitude may not change, but the follow-through will. She won't be happy, but the work will get done.

If competence is an issue, it's tougher. And I mean "Competence that training can't solve." Here you have talk her management (possibly through yours) into finding someone who can do the work (possibly an external?). It could mean you have to do her side yourself. Ideally people get fired for incompetence, but that's probably beyond the task at hand.

Good luck!

  • 1
    I am not passing judgment on my counterpart's abilities. However, I think that attitude/morale may be a factor in her organization: she is not keeping her boss informed of the projects/issues at hands. I have witnessed this many times over. That being said, your suggestion on her "incentives" may be something to consider.+1. – Chris Apr 10 '12 at 17:51
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As Joe Friday would say, "Just the facts Ma'am."

Some good ideas have been brought up on how to try and get your counterpart more engages at a peer to peer level. This should be your first go to, try and solve the problem yourself.

If this fails, then you have to be very careful about escalating. Especially true in a politically charged environment like you describe. When escalating you need to focus on the facts and the behaviours. You also need consistency. This is done through clear, consistent reporting. You don't go to senior management just when you're red, you have to have a communication dialogue in place. And this dialogue needs to show clear accountability.

Example: A few years back I was working to get a global support team ready for the launch of the companies biggest deployment ever. This required working across a half dozen support teams as well as an equal number of external teams including IT and Finance. The possibility for train wrecks was extreme.

I put together a weekly status report that called out all the major deliverables. This report included the major deliverables, the major dependancies, the current status, a trend arrow on risk and, most importantly, who is responsible.

This did two things- 1- Everyone knew what was being tracked and who was responsible. 2- When things went bad, you saw it coming as the risk trend increased.

Factual, regular, and consistent reporting up meant that everyone knew it I wasn't throwing anyone under the bus. When IT failed to deliver a key component, everyone knew before they failed it was in trouble.

Good luck!

  • I started two weeks ago a weekly status report (with a progress indicator i.e. On track, Not to plan etc...) and it seems to be working with a handful of (IT's) team members. I am unable to tell if my counterpart is even paying attention. – Chris Apr 10 '12 at 19:29

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