Implementing Horizontal Influencing To Improve Throughput Optimization

Today’s Current Situation

Project delivery work for a project manager can be very challenging especially when the sense of urgency is high. In many organizations, culture has morphed over time expecting the project managers to own much of the accountability for project success when in fact they are merely the facilitator. How fair is that? Typically project managers are assigned a project and expected to “make it happen”. Making it happen in an organizational culture with any degree of scarce resources can be impossible if left solely to the project manager to blaze the train. It is then no wonder why some project managers can climb the corporate job ladder to become an executive. What is it that helps these successful people achieve results when so many others fail? They know how to influence work accountability and resulting progress in the most efficient and effective manner without causing culture harm to their self.   I certainly wished I had learned this technique much sooner in my career.

Impact of this situation

A recent healthcare client of mine had a very large program management office that operated as a separate line of business. All of the enterprise project managers for strategic projects were managed by the PMO. Common practice for program and project managers was accept full accountability for the success of the initiative they were managing. This somehow included all internal stakeholder accountability. In turn, the project manager having taking on the accountability ownership by cultural default, began to place more and more emphasis on relationship management and in particular to those who complained the loudest. The impact of relationship management on a project became astute that many project managers were managing by relationship more so than by schedule and related deliverables. The volume for unplanned project change requests grew accordingly as a result of this dysfunction. The stress levels for project managers also grew in correlation to how much accountability the project manager had taken on and in correlation to where they were in the project delivery life-cycle. Something was terribly broken with the project management process.


I began attending project status meetings to observe the process. I reviewed several different project team status meetings and those project managers seem to have the process down. All of them were managing teams larger than twenty people and some were managing more than one hundred plus matrixed resources. All of the project managers sent out ahead something similar to a project schedule. During the status meeting (teleconference), the project manager would review the schedule and ask for updates. The person assigned a specific and reportable work task would respond accordingly during the status meeting with no apparent consequences for being late or for producing insufficient results. After all, the project manager had to maintain proper relationships with the key stakeholder(s) to have their support later when it was really needed! Upon conclusion of each project team status meeting that I observed, I met with the project manager to assess what went well, what did not, and what they planned to do about the remedy. When the problem revolved around the performance of a matrixed resource, not one time was it mentioned to meet with that resource’s manager to determine how to complete the assigned work. Nor did the managing resource manager ever meet with and/or endeavor to work with the project manager that their resource was assigned to. As I continued to observe the phenomena, it became apparent that the objectives of resource managers and project managers were incompatible. Project managers sought to complete projects. Resource managers sought to consume resources (their’s) through support of various project requests. Completing work by their assigned resources seemed like the accountability of the project manager not the accountability of their role. I surmised that two problems existed that were impeding the effectiveness of the project manager. One was the ineffective chain of command between matrixed resource and their resource manager. This was further compounded by the limited line-of-sight (transparency) of the resource manager for what their resource was/was not accomplishing in their assigned project role(s). Providing access to project progress through portfolio management greatly helped the resource manager understand cause and effect of inadequate level of effort combined with the proportionate sense-of-urgency by that resource. Armed with the new continuing information, the resource manager was now enabled to provide better management guidance to the resource in question. But this was still not enough. The resource manager owned a certain amount of accountability for their resources that had been matrixed out to project teams. In the past the project manager accepted this unknowingly thinking this was their job to do. The resource manager needed new information on a continuing basis that aligned them with the Project Manager’s objective to complete work (see Figure 23.2 Project Status Deliverable View).

Project deliverables are identified by reporting period frequency. The owning resource manager for a deliverable is stated on the project deliverable status view. During the project status meeting, all active deliverables by resource managers participating in the project through their assigned resources are asked to give status on the following questions:


  1.  What has been accomplished this period?
  2.  What will be accomplished next period?
  3.  What issues are outstanding?
  4.  What help is needed?
  5.  What acceleration opportunities exist?


This two minute drill correlated with the observation of the deliverable view by all participating resource teams, helps everyone understand how fast (or slow) work is being completed so that they become ready to engage as soon as possible. In the status meeting, everyone hears the report. Naturally we all hope for good news but can you imagine how it must feel to the reporting resource team that is struggling to complete their work and that the effect is that the work will be late possibly causing all future work to be completed late as well (How many times have you completed testing when project requirements were not finalized)?

Improving the line-of-sight for the resource manager’s improved their capability to support their own accountability. Providing portfolio access to resource managers to understand daily changes in portfolio progress became essential in their roles. Now they could adapt their resource assignments more so on demand than ever before.

Expected Benefits:

Implementing this process model into your organization should yield the following benefits:

Other benefits will emerge depending on the maturity of your organization to organize the data, disseminate the data, and the ability of the workforce to act on it.

How To Measure Horizontal Influencing

As project teams complete their life-cycle, they will certainly complete various deliverables. Each deliverable should be listed in a statistically valid and approved project schedule. This means that each deliverable has a specific completion date listed.

Performance measurement for horizontal influencing effectiveness is best supported by measuring for all on-time deliverables. This is satisfactory performance (what was expected). Anything less is unacceptable!

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