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Guest Post by Arnon Yaffe

Do you have the responsibility for a project, but little of the authority needed to make things happen?

Every so often project managers are assigned to lead projects without being granted the formal authority to get the job done. More so, if you are managing complex, cross-department projects, then this situation is your bread & butter. Why? Simply because most, if not all, of your project team hold routine positions with permanent supervisors who have other tasks and priorities for them. It’s called ‘matrix management,’ and your project is just another temporary endeavor in the matrix.

How to Get Projects Done Without AuthoritySo how can you get things done without formal authority? This is a classic management dilemma usually addressed by focusing on the manager’s communications and leadership skills. While I cannot overemphasize the necessity of these skills, I am also aware that developing these skills takes time, commitment and mileage; still there are situations where the organization structure, politics and culture make it almost impossible to get the job done without formal authority, even for a seasoned leader.

I found that clever use of collaborative work management provides an effective and elegant means to manage such circumstances. Follow these guidelines and you too will be able to casually apply the executive sponsor’s authority, increase transparency and bolster trust and credibility.

  1. The Sponsor is the source of authority – Every strategic project needs to have an executive sponsor. The executive sponsor is the officer that has a vested interest in the project’s success and has all the authority that the project manager needs to get the job done.
  2. Create an on-line link between the sponsor and the field – Employ a collaborative work management solution, like Clarizen, to provide on-line, on-demand status tracking and reporting. Create simple views and dashboards that highlight exceptions and enable sponsors to explore, drill down and understand root causes for anomalies.
  3. Delegate – Transfer duties and responsibilities to team leaders and encourage them to delegate tasks and sub-tasks to their subordinates. Thus, the routine activity of maintaining and reporting progress throughout the work breakdown structure becomes a collaborative effort.  Cultivate a culture where task owners and managers are accountable for reporting progress on their tasks.
  4. Showcase executive reports as a weekly discipline – Implement a weekly progress reporting routine that ensures your collaborative work management solution is up to date prior to project management meetings and executive reviews. Encourage stakeholders and sponsors to actively participate in the in-context discussions, ask questions and inquire directly with the teams in an open and transparent ecosystem.

Magic happens when project teams understand their work is showcased to the executive sponsors through the solution. People want to exhibit their contribution and be recognized for their achievements.  No one wants to be singled out as a cause for delay or underachievement. Thus, the need for the project manager to follow-up on execution and exercise authority is dramatically reduced. While this concept is simple and straightforward, some traditional project managers may feel it defies the essence of their perception of the project manager role.

Prior to the onset of collaborative project management software, much of the project manager’s work was administrative – maintain Gantts, hold status meetings, follow-up on execution, build presentations and file status reports. The traditional project management office was the central nervous system – everything passed through it and everything was controlled by it, including the information presented to stakeholders and sponsors.

In collaborative work management you ‘let go’ of all these centric activities – they are no longer needed. The project manager’s role is transformed. Less administration, less follow-up on execution, less authoritarian, less stressful. Your job is to cultivate collaboration and to inquire and ask challenging questions. You now have more time to strategize, plan ahead, look for dependencies and identify bottlenecks. You need not worry about authority, it is embedded in the system you have created.

Are you willing to let go? Learn more by signing up for a free, on-demand, Clarizen product tour by clicking here.