What If There is a Hiccup on the Project?

“I just want to be clear on this,” Roger said. “For my project, I initially asked for five hours of accounting support from your department. It turns out I needed ten hours, but you are giving me three hours from Nancy and three hours of data entry. That’s only six hours.”

Javier smiled again. “Yes, Nancy collected all the data about your project, transaction volume, your reporting requirements on the project, integration with our job-cost accounting system. With that information, I am comfortable that we can get your project accounting done in six hours a week, and Nancy will be there to make sure it is on time and accurate. You are getting a service from my department.”

“What if there is a hiccup on the project, something changes. Do I always have to go through you to communicate with Nancy? Seems like a lot of bureaucracy?” Roger challenged.

“No, you don’t have to go through me. My role is to provide you the service. I created a system for the accounting work to be done.

  • Nancy codes the transactions
  • Data entry enters the transactions into our accounting software
  • Nancy reconciles the data entry, proofs and publishes your report

So, the system is in place. Within that system, as the project leader, you have prescribing authority to directly assign tasks to both Nancy and data entry. You are right. There will be a hiccup, you can make adjustments directly. If you call a meeting with the two of them, they are obligated to attend the meeting and participate with their best efforts. As long as the system works for you, I don’t have to be involved.”

“So, what if your system breaks down? Who do I talk to, then?” Roger was still a bit defensive, not sure he trusted the system.

“Actually, I will know before you will. Nancy is acting as my monitor. If something changes, she will let me know and I will examine the system in case we need to make more adjustments.”
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Cross-functional working relationships

  • Service giving-Service getting – a project or department receives a service from another function or department
  • Prescribing authority – directly makes task assignments within the system
  • Monitor authority – monitors a defined system and reports anomalies to manager

Why Is Nancy So Slow?

“I knew this would happen,” Javier smiled from his chair in the conference room. “Not a big deal. Roger, when you came to me and said you needed five hours per week of accounting support, I knew you had no idea how much work it really was. You said, five hours, so I assigned Nancy, one of our staff accountants, to your project. She has a lot of other work to do in our accounting department, but I knew she would get a handle on things and report back to me on your project.”

“Yes, but, now, I need Nancy for ten hours,” Roger complained. “And, she said she couldn’t give me ten hours.”

“I know,” Javier calmly replied. “Nancy came back to me with a breakdown of the work. You need a couple of hours to code all your paperwork to the right expense accounts on your project, then some time to put that data into our computer accounting system, then about twenty minutes to proof and reconcile the output for the week. And, you are right, if Nancy was going to do all the work, it would likely take ten hours.”

“But, she said she couldn’t give me ten hours. If my project is getting a service from the accounting department, how is this going to work?”

“I talked to Nancy. She is going to do the up-front coding and she is going to proof the output, so she is only going to spend three hours on your project. And, we have a data entry clerk who can bang all those transactions into the computer system in another three hours. This data entry specialist is like lightening on a keyboard. We will still get all your work done, but it will probably only take six hours instead of ten.”

“Why is Nancy so slow on the data entry part?” Roger wanted to know.

“Nancy doesn’t practice on data entry. Her level of work requires judgment to connect the right expenses to the right account codes in our accounting system. It’s a different level of work than data entry. If your project was smaller, I would have Nancy do all the work including the data entry, but your project is bigger than you thought, so we are going to bring in a data entry clerk. That clerk just has to accurately get the data into the computer, there is very little judgment required.”

________S-II – Coding, proofing, reconciling. (Nancy)
____S-I – Data entry. (Data entry clerk)

Is It Just Red Tape?

“Just to be clear,” I repeated. “You expect a junior accountant to work overtime on your project, or if she cannot work overtime, to leave her other work undone while she finishes your work?”

“Look, it’s her work, now,” Roger replied. “She controls the pace and quality of her work. It is up to her to get it all done.”

“But, you arranged, with her manager, for five hours per week to do the accounting on your project. Because the job is bigger than you thought, it takes ten hours. Who resolves the conflict?”

“Her manager manages her other work. I am her manager on this project. She has to figure it out.”

“So, she has two managers? Are you her manager?”

“Yes, I am her manager for this project,” Roger insisted.

“So, if she underperforms or makes an egregious mistake, you can fire her from the company?” I wanted to know.

“Well, no,” Roger said. “Her other manager is in charge of that.”

“And, if she needs skills training, you would make arrangements to approve and send her to that training?”

“No,” Roger shook his head. “Her other manager would do that.”

“Then, you are not her manager.”

Roger sat up straight. “I am her manager on this project,” he stated flatly.

“Roger, you are the manager of this project. You are getting a service from the accounting department in the form of five hours of Nancy’s time per week. You have prescribing authority to directly give her task assignments, up to five hours per week. But if you need ten hours per week, you have to go to Nancy’s manager and negotiate for more time.”

“That seems like a lot of red tape to me,” Roger announced, as he stormed out of the room.

Priority Conflict Between Two Managers

“I am getting a service from our accounting department for my project. It’s a big enough project that it has its own budget, so I talked to the accounting manager to see if they could provide five hours a week in project accounting for me,” Roger announced.

“And?” I asked.

“So they assigned Nancy, a junior accountant to do the work. But, the transaction volume in the project is double what we thought, so I really need ten hours per week. I told Nancy and she said she had other work that had to get completed and she could only spend five hours. I told her that was unacceptable.”

“Why was that unacceptable?”

“Well, I am her manager for this project. Isn’t she supposed to do what I tell her?” Roger complained.

“Are you her manager?”

“For this project, yes. She has two managers, her accounting manager for her other work and I am her manager on this project,” he flatly stated.

“And, what if there is a priority conflict in her work between the two of you?”

“She will just have to work a little longer to get it all done. Not my problem.”

“Just to be clear, you expect a junior accountant to make a decision to work overtime, or if she can’t work overtime, to leave some work undone, while she finishes your work?”

Not a Time Management Issue

“Yes, you could call it stress,” Daniele replied. “And it’s building. I seem to get farther behind and I can see there are things that need to be done, there is no way I will get to them.”

“What do you think is happening?” I asked.

“I get to work early to get a few minutes of peace and quiet. It’s usually my most productive hour of the day. But then, there is an email, or a note on my desk about a struggling project and boom, I am in the weeds again. I am not complaining about the work, but I feel the stress. I am torn between these urgent projects and the work I know I really need to be doing. It even affects my work-life balance. I feel like I need to come in to work two hours early.”

“Do you think you have a work-life balance problem?”

“Yes. My husband thinks so,” Daniele nodded.

“You know I am a structure guy. I don’t think you have a work-life balance problem, I think you have a structure issue. Why do you think you get pulled into the weeds and cannot get to the work you need to be doing as a manager?”

“My team has questions that have to be answered, problems that have to be solved and decisions that have to be made,” she described. “If I don’t spend that time, they just get stuck and don’t know what to do.”

“Your stress is only the symptom. It looks like a time management issue, but it’s not. It’s a structure issue.”

That Would Be Me

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“But, it’s an open role on Derrick’s team. I am not trying to argue, just trying to understand why, as Derrick’s manager, I am accountable for quarterbacking this recruiting process?” Roy continued to push back.

____________S-III – Manager (Roy)
________S-II – Supervisor (Derrick)
____S-I – Technician Team (Open role)

“Derrick is about to make a decision,” I explained. “As hiring manager, he has to have minimum veto authority over who gets on his team. This decision he is about to make could be a great decision or a poor decision. Whichever way he decides, who do I hold accountable for the quality of his decision?”

“Well, it is his decision. He must be accountable,” Roy continued to squirm.

“No. I assume Derrick is doing his very best and it is his manager I hold accountable for his output. Who is his manager?”

“That would be me,” Roy grimaced.

The People System

Roy was still pushing back. “How can you hold me accountable for quarterbacking the hiring process for Derrick’s team? It’s his team. He is the supervisor.”

“Roy, let’s look at the levels of work in this hiring process. Starting with Stratum I level of work, that would be the technicians on Derrick’s team,” I described. “What is the team’s focus?”

“They run the machines, stack the materials, they do production,” Roy replied.

“And Derrick’s role is supervisor. What is his focus?”

“In his role as supervisor, he makes sure production gets done. He schedules the team, makes sure the materials are all there, makes sure the machines are in running order, makes sure the output of the team matches the work orders for each day.”

________Stratum II – Supervisor – Derrick
____ Stratum I – Technician Team

“What is the time frame of his focus?” I prompted.

Roy turned his head, “He has to look out, one to two weeks. Some of the materials take time to get. We can’t run out, that shuts production down.”

“What is the longest lead time item,” I asked.

“We have some materials, like custom packaging that can take as long as six months to get. If we run out of our custom packaging, that production cell would be shut down. That’s why we never run out.”

“And you. You are Derrick’s manager. What is your focus?”

____________ Stratum III – Manager – Roy
________ Stratum II – Supervisor – Derrick
____ Stratum I – Technician Team

“I have a longer term focus. I look at the system, the way everything works together,” Roy replied.

“Just looking at personnel, what do you focus on?”

“Well, Derrick may determine who shows up on any given day, but I determine how many people are on Derrick’s team, including new trainees, extra people to rotate in, when people are sick or workload goes up. Derrick may ask for an extra guy, but I decide if he gets it or not. I use production models based on historical data to determine the optimum size of the team given the forecast we get from the sales department.”

“So you are in charge of the people system?” I clarified.

“Yes, that’s right.”

“That’s why I hold you accountable for quarterbacking the recruiting process to fill a technician role on Derrick’s team.”
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Who Is the Quarterback of the Hiring Team?

“I am Derrick’s manager, but Derrick is the one with the opening on his team, a position that has been open since April,” Roy protested. “How can you hold me accountable?”

“You are Derrick’s manager, I hold you accountable for his output,” I insisted.

“But he is the one who hasn’t done his job. He hasn’t hired anyone, not my fault,” Roy placed a line in the sand.

“He is on your team. One of your responsibilities is to decide who is on your team. Derrick is on your team. I hold you accountable. More than that, for this open role, you are the manager-once-removed. As the manager-once-removed, it is your responsibility to quarterback this hiring process.”

“Well. I have been telling him he needs to hire someone. What else am I supposed to do?” Roy grimaced.

“Derrick is the hiring manager, but you are the manager-once-removed. As the manager-once-removed, as the quarterback of this process, what steps could you have taken to make the situation better?”
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His Team, His Problem

“Why should I get involved?” Roy protested. “My team is full. Derrick is the one who needs to hire someone.”

“Is Derrick on your team?” I asked.

“Yes, but he is the hiring manager, it is his team, his problem.”

“And you are Derrick’s manager?” I pressed.

“Yes, I am Derrick’s manager.”

“And Derrick is underperforming?” I continued.

“Yes, he needs to hire someone, and it’s been three months,” Roy explained.

“So, who do I hold accountable for Derrick’s underperformance?”

Roy thought for a moment, sat up in his chair, “You have to hold Derrick accountable, he is the one who needs to hire someone for his team.”

“What if I told you that I thought Derrick was doing his best and it was his manager I hold accountable?”

“Well, I am his manager, but it’s not my hire. How can you hold me accountable?”
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Whipping Session

“Armand, I am glad you could make the time to meet with Sam and me,” I started. “I was talking with Sam yesterday about the role description he was writing for the Project Manager position.”

“Yes,” Armand quickly jumped in. “I told Sam that I was tired of some of his projects coming in over budget. I think his last two hires were way off base.”

“Why do you think they were off base?” I prompted.

“I don’t think Sam knows enough about what he expects out of that position. Project Management for our complex projects is a tough job. I don’t think Sam has a clear idea of the critical role requirements. The new PM he hired barely knows how to use our project management software.”

“Armand, do you hold Sam accountable for the output of his project management team?”

“Yes. Yes, I do,” he replied.

“And, which manager should I hold accountable for Sam’s output?”

Armand thought we were going to have a whipping session with Sam as the recipient. Armand was suddenly in the hot seat.

“I guess, that would be me,” he slowly replied.
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