Archive for January, 2012

Four steps to beating a cross-functional problem

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

In a companion post, I describe an example where an IT manager is taking heat because his group has to work too many hours to meet schedules.  The root cause of the problem is outside of the IT group:  The operating groups are making demands without regard to division-wide priorities or fact-based scheduling.

The IT manager might turn to division management and say “This is your problem.  You haven’t set division-wide priorities.”  He might say that, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

The best approach is for the IT manager to take charge of the problem with a four step process that leads from analysis to building support for a cross-functional solution.

  1. Analyze the problem objectively, avoiding defensive bias.  In our example of high workload in the IT department, are schedules unrealistic?  Are people spending a lot of their time fixing previous releases?  Do shifting priorities create traffic delay for individual projects?
  2. Identify improvements that range from “local” solutions that you can do in your own group to things that need cross-functional support.  The local solutions will have smaller impact, but you will use them to build support for cross-functional solutions later.
  3. Implement one or two of the local solutions to unilaterally within your group.  For example, you might insist on reserving 35% of your people’s time for supporting old releases.  This is the step that’s politically tricky, because outsiders may think you’re just being obstinate.  To combat this, be sure to repeat the cross-functional benefits every time you can.  Perhaps you can argue that dependable schedules are good for everyone.
  4. The last step is to leverage your success with the local solutions into leading a cross-functional task force to solve the problem. You haven’t solved the whole problem, but the limited improvement you’ve demonstrated gives you credibility in the organization.  You can sell upper management the idea of your leading a task force to implement a full solution.

This process isn’t without risk.  You have to be sure that others see that you are promoting worthwhile improvements, not just being an obstinate rabble rouser.  But when you can accomplish a real improvement, you not only make your life easier, you also build your personal reputation as a problem solver.

2012 Resolution: Take charge of a problem

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

Putting yourself in charge of a cross-functional problem is strong medicine for your career, and it will make your job easier. Here’s a story I heard from an IT group manager at a division of a large company.

The email came from the division GM:  The IT manager’s group was in red status because they were working too many hours (this is a true story).  Despite the manager’s positive evaluations from his group and his boss, the GM wanted the manager’s improvement plan.

Our hero had a serious dilemma.  He was taking heat for something that was really a cross-functional issue outside of his control.  If he pushed the problem back on management, he’d just be whining.  If he ignored the problem, his performance ratings would suffer. Either way, his personal reputation in the company was on the line.

The cross-functional issue in this story is that the IT group was being bullied into accepting unrealistic schedules by the operating groups.  Each operating group wanted the shortest possible schedules for their own projects, and none of them was concerned about other group’s needs.  This was an organizational problem that was outside of the IT group’s control.

The way out of the dilemma is to first make “local” improvements that are possible within your own group and publicize this effort, and then leverage that success into a broader solution.   For example, the IT group could insist on a 35% schedule margin to allow for bug fixes in previous releases.  A local solution like this can’t completely solve the cross-functional problem, but then you have a case for launching a broader, cross-functional solution.

This process of leveraging local improvements into cross-functional initiatives takes political skill, but when you pull it off, you’ll make your own life easier and build your reputation as a problem solver.

In a companion post, I explain a four step process to carry this all off.