Stakeholder roles: Functional Management

Working productively with the company’s functional management is important to the success of any project. “Management,” in this case, refers to functional management, also known as line management. These can be department managers, first-level supervisors, or executive vice presidents. With the exception of a project-oriented organization, functional managers are responsible for an organizational unit, such as “Engineering” or “Internal Audit” rather than a specific project.

These are the people with long-term control over employees and other resources in the firm. They are also involved in setting company policies—policies that may impact the project. An example of a typical matrix organization.

We identified “management support” as one of the commonly stated characteristics of successful projects. When asked to expand on what kind of management support is most helpful, most project managers describe help in

  • “getting the right people at the right time”
  • “timely decisions based on the facts presented by the project team.”

as being the most important. These perceptions highlight the contributions that functional management makes to the project team.

They can also guide the project manager in identifying which functional managers might be stakeholders on a specific project. The project manager must work closely with functional managers in getting the best people for the job.

After management has initiated a project and described its scope, the project manager designs a work plan that details what skills are required for the project and departments the workers possessing these skills will come from.

Armed with this information, the project manager is now ready to identify the managers of those departments; these are the managers who will have control over the workers assigned to the project team and will decide when they are available. These managers must approve the statement of work (SOW) and the Project Plan because the potential team members identified in these documents will come from their department. Throughout the life of the project, these functional managers can be extremely helpful in solving personnel or performance problems.

“Making timely decisions based on the facts provided by the team” is the other major responsibility of management. Identifying the managers who will make decisions can be tricky. Start with the obvious ones:

  1. Managers whose operations will be affected by the outcome of the project
  2. Managers representing other stakeholders, such as the customer
  3. The manager to whom the project manager reports

For each of these managers, remember to keep in mind why they will be interested in your project and which decisions they will influence.

After identifying the obvious decision makers, the project manager needs to identify the less obvious ones, such as those with veto authority.

As an example of the importance of this task, consider the story of a training department in a large company that decided to create a project management curriculum. The training specialist responsible for the curriculum proposed a progression of courses, from basic topics, such as scheduling, through advanced topics such as negotiating and program management.

It was a very thorough curriculum, based on requirements gathered from organizations throughout the company and available courses from respected vendors. But the proposal wasn’t implemented. The manager responsible for purchasing and administering this curriculum looked at the number of students projected annually for the intermediate and advanced topics, and decided there was not enough demand to warrant the overhead associated with these courses. It was difficult to dispute his decision because this manager was applying sound, stated company policy.

The training specialist had not considered this stakeholder or his veto power, and the result was a dramatically scaled-down curriculum with a far smaller scope.

The question that wasn’t asked soon enough was: Who will be involved in approving this curriculum? (Miller and Heiman describe this decision maker in their book, Strategic Selling. While this is primarily a book about selling, any project manager promoting organizational change will benefit from understanding the decision-making processes outlined in the book.)

Ask the Right Questions About Managers

Which managers will make decisions? Who has veto power? Who is indirectly affected by these decisions?

These are the kinds of questions a project manager needs to ask when considering who are the stakeholders in management. You will find that the responsibility matrix described in this article is an excellent tool for distinguishing between the different types of stakeholder involvement.

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I am a Project Management practitioner with more than 5 years experience in hardware and software implementation projects. Also a bit of a geek and a great WordPress enthusiast. I hope you enjoy the content, and I encourage you to share your knowledge with the world.