Managing Multi-organizational Projects: What Works Best?

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Facilitated by Mike Krejci, Director of Technology and Web Development, National Institute on Money in State Politics

Description

Managing projects within a single organizations can be a well-defined process, with project managers able to plan out a course and set tasks and goals. But how do you manage a project where you have no authority for a portion of it, as part of it relies on one more other organizations? When two organizations come together with their unique resources, to combine them into yet a third unique outcome, what are best practices for managing such a collaboration? Is it preferable to have two project managers, one for each organization, or should a single project manager be identified and given multi-organizational authority to set tasks and goals. Recently Mike had such a project and while it was completed, it was not as smooth a road to travel as it could have been. Mike will layout the basic foundations of this project, and outline some of the pitfalls we encountered, but the primary focus of the session will be to have an open discussion on what are the best methods to manage such a project, and what are any real world examples anyone has seen between two, or perhaps even more, organizations working together on a single project.

Managing Multi-organizational Projects: What Works Best?

I run the IT department for a non-profit organization called The National Institute on Money in State Politics (www.followthemoney.org). In short, we collect the campaign finance donations given to candidates and committees on the state level for all 50 states and standardize and categorize the donations by industry. There is another non-profit organization called The Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org) that collects and standardizes the campaign finance information at the federal level. Recently a funder financed a joint project of both our organizations, and that was to combined contributions at both the state and federal levels and identify the top 10,000 combined national donors. The final results of this work can be found here http://www.followthemoney.org/database/top10000.phtml and here http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/index_stfed.php

While the directive seemed a simple one, it is in fact a very labor intensive project. We had to first make sure that our Company A is the same as their Company A. This in itself is a difficult task as in many cases you are working with individuals that work for Company A, which is actually a subsidiary of Company B. We then needed identify who the top donors were when adding both levels of data together. It may be that one organization had a lot of money given on the federal side, but perhaps only one record on the state side. It was small enough on the state side that the record never really researched or standardized, so those records then needed added man power, on both sides, to identify and add into the top contributors. A final product then had to be develop that was appropriate for each sides individual web site. This, in a very summarized version, was the project at hand.

In laying this project out, a single project manager, or point person, was never created and each side had their own project managers to work with each other and with the other departments of each organization. IT was not the only department involved as researchers and communications had to be involved. We would have conference calls to discuss direction and identify tasks needing to be done, then each organization would go and work on their components, coming back together at scheduled intervals to determine progress and if new courses of actions were needed. Of course this work, and in the end created a very useful and powerful tool on both web sites, but it was not as smooth a process as we believe it could have been. There were a few cases of each side doing things different then the other was expecting, and even right at the start there was a misunderstanding of the project definition as a whole, causing both organizations to initially develop in separate directions, without realizing it. This of course caused a few delays and a few points of frustration for all involved.

Not belabouring on the case project, the important question I would like to present here is how would you organize such projects? Would you select a single point project manager on each organization and have only those project managers interface the project together? Could one person have cross organizational authority for such a project? How would your organization have handled this? Have you ever had a single point cross organizational project manager, and if so, how was authority laid out? These are the questions I would like to explore and hopefully, together, we can come out with a working set of solutions to go home with.