Collaboration and Management in Cross-Departmental Web Projects

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How can project manager engage and work with many different departments for cross-functional projects like websites or CRM implementations? Where should a project manager ideally live in the organizational chart to manage these projects? Or when is an external consultant better positioned to manage effectively? Participants will share thoughts and what's worked for them on these thorny issues.

Main notes follow. Scroll to the bottom for our conclusions!

Who are you? Where are you from?

  • Norman, NY, He doesn't see Nonprofits embracing the whole project management area. Why is it important? Decisions made too quickly.
  • Heather, DC, interested in dynamics of working relationships in small organizations.
  • Colin Harrison, Yorkshire, 19 years in Further Education, 8 years consulting business 95-03. CEO non-profit ICT services company. Project manager. Regional IT champion for Yorkshire. Getting Nonprofits using IT more effectively. blog:
  • Fred, Project manager, NY, at Murphy Center.
  • Mouhamad, Coop America in DC, coming from corporate world. 60 people in the organization, which has been around for 25 years. The organization is growing now, but there is a nervousness around IT.
  • Billy, Techsoup, growing organization from 50-160.
  • David, technical problems are easy, it’s the people problems you have to worry about!
  • Dan, NY, operation centric is his goal. Everything is localized.
  • Jed, ACLU for three years, now at Revenue Watch. Bringing the needs of different groups together.

Jed – Heather, Fred, Mouhamad – they are all talking about people problems (from small Nonprofits of four to large regions of the UK). Some of the same kinds of resistance exist – listening, communication.

Colin – IT projects are about trying to get changes within organizations. They need to be derived from the mission of the organization. How can we apply IT to help them do things better or do better things?

Norman – Project management is not all about technology. Good amount of time working with people, marketing people, etc… Far away from server problems, etc… Responsibilities fall now on working with other people. (People’s time is not adjusted to add a new project – you have to become the psychologist to get them to do it).

Are there good experiences in cooperation?

Dan – Custom in–house projects people love. Champions from each department. They get buy-in up the chain. It’s so important that they work on weekends, etc…

Norman - How do you win them over?

Dan – We showed them the technology and they use it. Since they’re so interested they go for it (they’re the 10%). So he can’t take credit. They struggle more on a senior level.

Mouhamed – Part of project management is politics – making sure people are on board. He is a big fan of teams, or task forces. He can sit with different people in different places. Giving them a separate identity from their own departments really makes a difference! They have their own team email, etc…. This separates them, so gives them more direct content. So he is now the manager of the team, not just the tech guy. It’s a much easier way to maneuver around the organization.

Norman – He is working in IT, but if he doesn’t talk to the other departments, he doesn’t know what’s going on. He has to make the effort to be involved. What about group lunches and talks?

David – This only works up to a certain size in the organization.

Fred – Sit down with every director a couple of months. What do you think about this? What can IT do for you? What do you hear from staff that we might not be hearing about? It’s become much easier to identify central projects the organization needs to launch.

David – Internet strategy is similar to getting buy-in. Strategy is about finding a connection, figuring out the message. What Fred is doing is audience research at the organization. It becomes a much easier sell then.

Billy – Aligning interests with various stakeholders seems obvious but how come it is still so difficult?

David – We’re all human! We’re not all Mr. Spock.

Mouhamad – We’re talking about the sector of market that is really attached to their work. What about three-year old posters on the website? Emotional issues here. He sends out a project newsletter – if it’s once a week and three paras is fine. This is what you’re getting. It will let you do this. This includes links to what DSL is. People are very responsive.

Colin – IT is political (first sentence of dissertation in 1989). In 1997 I did research with Asian shopkeepers looking at the reason they were not installing EPOS (scanning systems). The reasons came out as Time, control and profit: "I have not enough time to do it" But you will get more time back. " I don't understand this stuff - I will lose control of the business to my son." But if you spend a little time to learn it - you will get much more control over your business (e.g. stock control)plus you will get more time to spend on your business not in your business! "I will lose money doing this stuff" But you will get more profit from it if you learn it (even if you think you don’t have the money now).

The issues are not that much different with non-profits. (Perhaps replace the word profit by "viability" or something like that.

The organization needs to take control of IT, not just IT department. Talk to people about mission, etc… then they realize how the tools can help. Attack the decision makers – this can help you achieve the mission better.

Billy – The idea of framing. Note the linguist George Lakehoff. It seems like culture, social is soft and anyone who talks about it is soft. What?!! Wikis flatten hierarchies.

David – Source: Wikinomics. Losing control but getting more in return.

These soft aspects – what it takes to create an identity – there is no tool-kit, yet we’ve all agreed that these are as vital as a stable server, a timeline, etc…

Norman - Is this informal way of reaching out to people something that needs to be formalized in some way? Does this need to be put out there more that it’s not just technology?

David - Yes. We need tips that people can use. We need to recognize there’s more to the project than just identifying the scope.

Conclusions: The basic definition of project management should include an informal tool-kit of all the soft tools that PMs use to keep the project running. Should it be called a toolkit or a vocabulary? We need a "soft" project management manual.

There are a range of tools and interpersonal, collaborative, political techniques that PMs use to keep a project moving and keep all parties comfortable, informed and on board. These "soft" tools include everything from email updates and one-on-one coffees to organization-wide initiatives like company newsletters that inform groups what other groups are doing, or monthly show and tell presentations at a staff meeting. Tips for how to follow up with people, knowing how to share ownership with people (as in Mouhamad's example of giving the sub-group working on the project a sense of membership and value to the project team, versus the department they work in), finding your evangelists, etc. ...

Why can't the PM "bible" include guidelines and suggestions for how these less formal techniques are the grease and the glue that keep projects moving and give a sense of trust, ownership and inclusion to all stakeholders?

Also, as with the example of the false, built-in "rebellion" in "The Matrix" movies, this cannot be a formal design for informal communication. If we "write it in" too much, it will become another rote obligation and the "real" informal communication will reside elsewhere. Instead, this toolkit should be a set of suggestions, not yet another jargonized template or timeline. It needs to have genuine (authentic) informality.