Tips for Managing Matrixed Resources in Project Management

Project Management

One of the toughest jobs of the project manager is making sure you actually receive the resources you have been given for your project.  People resources are the trickiest of all because each person assigned to you can choose to come to your meetings or not, answer their phone or not, respond to your e-mails or not, review materials you send them or not, do their work on time or not, and so on.

If your team members are also your employees, then you have tremendous influence over these decisions.  But in many project situations – virtually all large project situations – your team members are not your employees, instead they are ‘borrowed’ from other managers in the company.

This means their number-one priority is NOT you or your project; their top priority is pleasing and meeting the needs of their line manager.

If you get people resources on a ‘dedicated’ basis – meaning you get 100% of their time for the duration of your project – then their manager has pretty much handed them over to you.  You effectively become their line manager for that time period, usually up to and including giving input to their performance, salary and bonus reviews.

However, in any situation where an employee has to split his or her time between working for their line manager and working for your project – even if you negotiate prorated input to their performance reviews – you need to understand that the other manager has far greater influence over their time and decisions than you have.  You will have to deal with that fact for the duration of your project.

It is a good practice to be wary of time commitments for any resource assigned to you on a split-time basis, particularly if anyone is allocated to you less than 50%. Here is:

Why a less-than-50% allocation so often fails:

Human nature is such that both you and the person’s line manager will both attempt to task this person 100% anyway, creating a situation in which all three of you will lose.

Human nature also dictates that if it comes to making a choice between pleasing you or pleasing a line manager, then the person will choose the one who has the most impact on salary, bonuses, performance reviews, and job security. In a matrix situation, you lose.

People in this situation inevitably find their energy and attention is fragmented between the project and all other work. It takes more time and effort on your part to keep such team members up-do-date on what’s happening in the project. They, in turn, lose track and lose momentum switching back and forth.

People whose time is fragmented miss meetings. Your project is now subject to the whims and inefficiencies of whatever else is going on in their non-project time. When emergencies crop up in those areas, your project suffers.

The worse case I ever saw of this was when I was working as a consultant to one Fortune 500 company during a time period in which they started and concluded buy-out negotiations with another Fortune 500 company. People who had been assigned to my project on a split-time basis suddenly began skipping project meetings because they were getting pulled by their line managers into meetings related to the buy-out.  The impact to my project was that after 90 days the program had only received 60% of the resources we needed.

The smaller the time commitment, the lower our project sat within each individual’s priority list. Once the buy-out was announced, missed meetings and delayed meetings became rampant. Within this 90-day window, we had only one three-week period where we operated at full strength.

It is worth noting that even with this chronic 40% matrixed resource shortfall, our project suffered only a 20% delay in deliverables. The reason is we still had dedicated resources in the most critical positions, and they were able to create all sorts of workaround solutions that helped us make substantial progress in the face of otherwise overwhelming resource losses.

Since matrixed resources with split-time allocations are a fact of life in projects, how can you manage them successfully?

The solution is 3-fold:

1) Staff your team with the ‘right’ mix of dedicated and split-time resources.

For medium and large projects, in general, the shorter the timeline, the more dedicated resources you need. And, the more complex the project, the more dedicated resources you will need, so each key aspect of the project gets needed attention and creative leadership brainpower.  Even if your project is well underway as you read this, you can always step back and re-negotiate time commitments, if needed.

2) Track the time you actually receive from your resources each week and note any shortfalls, no matter how small.

This is largely a guesstimation exercise you and your leads conduct at the end of each week. If you wait till after the weekend, you will have already forgotten how the week went. If you wait for your time tracking reports – in the event your company not only has time tracking tools but actually uses them – not only will the data be too late, it will usually be incomplete.  In most companies, your pivotal business and management people aren’t required to use those tools.

3) Take immediate action to win back your allocated time from any shortfall resource(s).

Don’t take a ‘wait and see’ approach if someone misses a meeting or is late in a task or a response.  Instead, immediately follow-up and find out if this is a one-time event or a warning sign of more misses to come.  Find out what your team member needs in order to be able to attend all future meetings.  Work with them, and their line manager if necessary, to clear up any conflicts or issues. Then figure out to make up for the time that was lost, so you can make sure your project stays on track.

These three items are common sense solutions, but it is surprisingly uncommon to see a project manager do them all.  Be one of the uncommon few!  Since missing-in-action resources are such a challenging and chronic issue in many projects, there is a good chance at least one of these three options can help you today.