Four steps to beating a cross-functional problem

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.

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