Proven Techniques for Leading Cross-Functional Projects


A prime cause for issues on cross-functional projects is neglect of a specific functional area or group. Make sure each affected stakeholder group is properly represented, consulted, respected, and kept informed.

With the prior principles understood, let's review a few proven tips and techniques specific to leading cross-functional projects that I have either confirmed or realized over the years:

  • Ensure proper project sponsorship and governance Any time a project's scope addresses more than a single business function, it is critical that the project sponsor have jurisdiction over all the business functions affected. If the sponsor does not have this jurisdiction then a process (often by a senior level committeesteering committee, change control board) needs to be established up-front to deal with any territorial issue or change request that impacts the cross-functional environment.


    Another prime cause for issues on cross-functional projects is poor performance by a functional leader. Common performance issues include

    • Not fulfilling role responsibilities
    • Lack of functional knowledge or experience
    • Misalignment of priorities; unable to meet time commitments for role
    • Not consulting other members of his/her functional group
    • Not keeping other members of his/her functional group informed
    • Unable to complete reviews in a timely fashion
  • Designate functional leaders As part of your project organization and your role-responsibility matrix, include functional leader positions as the primary representatives from each distinct group. These roles will be instrumental to facilitating the project process and to reducing your workload.
  • Acknowledge the importance and value of each group While you may serve as the ringmaster and steadfastly communicate the vision and process approach for the project, you should be quick to acknowledge the importance, value, and role that each group contributes to the success of the project. You don't have all the answers, so you need to facilitate the execution of the project and instill a sense of ownership into each of your functional leaders.
  • Get commitments from respective resource managers As part of the collaborative approach that is needed for these types of projects, make sure to work closely with the various resource managers who are responsible for assigning the appropriate personnel to the project. In many cases, the resource managers are the bosses of the individuals who will serve as your designated functional leads. Invest the time with them. Review project definition with them. Include them on the review and acceptance of the project plan, especially the resource plan and project schedule.


    Reminderto help build the sense of ownership, work with the designated functional leaders to perform the detail planning for the project.

  • Ensure project alignment In case you were not involved in the project definition process, make sure your cross- functional project is aligned with the other projects underway or planned in the enterprise. There is nothing worse for team spirit and commitment than to start a project that has an obvious conflict with other initiatives.
  • Focus on workflow process To add more value to the project, to better serve your role as facilitator, and to help you make better decisions, invest the effort early to understand the complete workflow process that is affected by the project. In many cases, your functional leaders will have silo outlooks and will not fully understand how they get the inputs they do or how their outputs affect the rest of the operation.
  • Kickoff meetings are essential Kickoff meetings are always excellent tools for setting expectations and communicating the same message to the key stakeholders. On cross-functional projects, where multiple departments or business units are involved, this type of event is critical to getting the project started correctly and to improving the chances for success.
  • Resolve issues aggressively On cross-functional projects, you are likely to see issues occur that do not have a clear owner. As we discussed in detail in Chapter 13, "Managing Project Issues," it is imperative that you take an aggressive attitude toward finding resolutions to any issue to protect the project's critical success factors.
  • Lookout for dysfunctional relations Now, you would think that since the various functional areas are all members of the same, common organization that it would be one big happy family. Well, people are people, families are families, and dysfunction is always close by. Just understand that in many organizations, there can be historical disputes between functional groups or individuals within the group that affect your project's performance.
  • Invest time on communications planning As we've iterated many times in many different ways, communication is key to project success. For cross-functional projects, you need to invest additional time in planning your project communications due to the heightened importance they will have in this setting and to the increased number of stakeholders that need to be included.


    Make sure to include the resource managers, and if not the same, the bosses of the functional leaders in your project communications.

  • Invest time on requirements definition As we discussed in Chapter 18, "Managing Expectations," the requirements definition process is often the source for missed expectations. This is especially true with cross-functional projects due to the increased breadth of scope, the number of stakeholders, and the team dynamics that can come into play. In addition, as we mentioned in the fourth principle in managing these types of projects, more effort is needed to verify understanding. The key is to plan adequate time and effort for a thorough requirements definition phase, so you can avoid the common problems that contribute to insufficient requirements definition, including

    Cross-functional projects are excellent candidates for conducting project and requirements definition as a project by itself, as we discussed in Chapter 4, "Defining a Project," due to the number of stakeholders that need to be consulted and due to the potential change impact.

    • Reluctant signatures Stakeholders who approve requirements without a real understanding or buy-in. Be especially cognizant of stakeholders who are quiet, susceptible to peer pressure, or who offer no non-verbal signs that the light bulb has gone on.
    • Misunderstandings, assumptions, and unstated expectations Use multiple requirements gathering methods, leverage visual models, ask extra questions, and focus on change impact.


Watch out for stakeholders who are signing off on (accepting) requirements without complete understanding. While this may get you through a milestone, it will come back and "bite you" before you're done.

Part i. Project Management Jumpstart

Project Management Overview

The Project Manager

Essential Elements for any Successful Project

Part ii. Project Planning

Defining a Project

Planning a Project

Developing the Work Breakdown Structure

Estimating the Work

Developing the Project Schedule

Determining the Project Budget

Part iii. Project Control

Controlling a Project

Managing Project Changes

Managing Project Deliverables

Managing Project Issues

Managing Project Risks

Managing Project Quality

Part iv. Project Execution

Leading a Project

Managing Project Communications

Managing Expectations

Keys to Better Project Team Performance

Managing Differences

Managing Vendors

Ending a Project

Absolute Beginner[ap]s Guide to Project Management
Absolute Beginner[ap]s Guide to Project Management
ISBN: 078973821X
Year: 2006
Pages: 169 © 2008-2020.
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