A cross-functional project team is a group of people from different facets of the organization, that have the varied skill sets required to work towards the common objectives of a project. As expected, the role of a Project Manager and project management expands beyond just keeping the project on track. It must also encompass team building, conflict resolution and strong leadership.
As a PM for the Telecommunications department of a leading Class 1 railroad in North America, working to implement a safety system as mandated by the Railroad Safety act of 2008, I have had the unique opportunity to be a key part of a cross-functional team, leading and managing my piece of the estimated $1.4B project.
The scope of the project was very vast, impacting almost all railroad employees and resources, and there were a multitude of challenges the team faced as they forged ahead with the project.
Four key points that helped the team overcome these hurdles and ensure smooth program execution can be noted as follows:
1. Clear Direction and Strong Support from Project Sponsors
In order to get everyone marching towards the same goals, it is very important to define the project scope in detail and set down clear objectives that are approved and signed off by the project sponsors and the executive team. Documentation stating the project priorities, expectations and limitations is required to avoid scope creeps that are very common in large cross-functional projects. A separate cross-organizational executive body was set up to charter and lead the project and was empowered with key decision making responsibilities.
2. Cross-Functional Team Collaboration and Participation
A good Project Manager knows and encourages team involvement from the planning phase. This is of particular importance in projects of this magnitude due to the different specialties and expertise required. The PM needs to act as a collaborator between different organizations, encouraging positive dialog and participation from all the stakeholders. A well detailed resources management plan and RACI charts are some key tools available to the PM to succeed. Clear goals were defined and scope statements were written for each department to ensure everyone in the stakeholder register had their role clearly defined. At the same time, all key resources were brought together as one big team to solidify collaboration at the organization level.
3. Clear and Timely Communication to all Stakeholders
Common project challenges in large organizations are the creation of communication silos within various departments, which could derail project schedule and budget. A formal communication model signed off by all the stakeholders during planning is required to keep the project going on the right track without causing confusion and communication gaps. Giving each team enough time to respond with project updates and ensuring that the communication plan is followed helps eliminate these silos. There were monthly alignment meetings held with all stakeholders participating in information exchange and positive dialog to ensure smooth project communication flow.
4. Risk Management and Team Commitment
Often in the case of large cross-functional projects there are multiple risks involved at each functional level as well as inter-functional level. A strong risk management plan is required to outline possible risk scenarios and detail the mitigation plans. In order to get team commitment, sharing risk management with team members to “own and manage” them is a strategy that works well. Of course, the PM needs to be diligent to follow up and keep constant communication with these key members to ensure nothing slips their radar. The risk register was stored online for all key resources to access and for the risk owners to update as needed. Frequent meetings to go through this register at the program level and a broad distribution list got the required commitment to stay on top of possible stop-gaps.
Leading cross-functional projects across an organization is a complex challenge but I hope the tips above help you break down organizational barriers and get teams collaborating to drive the project to success.
Do you use any tactics that I did not discuss? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.