Cross-functional initiatives often represent a high level of value to an organization overall, but are the most difficult to execute successfully across individual teams. 

The Project Gone Wrong

At some point in time, everyone has been part of a cross-functional initiative that went sideways. Initially, there was a lot of enthusiasm and support for the project, and things got off to a great start. Over time however, things began to unravel. Day-to-day operational responsibilities overwhelmed functional participants. Resource contraints started to pop up. Decisions were made but not communicated, causing confusion. Project tasks got delayed. Ultimately the project was put “on hold”, or worse, it lumbered on as an organizational zombie draining brainpower from everyone it touched.

Fortunately, there are a few simple steps that can be taken to ensure that this scenario doesn’t happen on your next big cross-functional initiative.


Step 1: Identify an Executive Sponsor

The first and most important step is to identify an executive that will own the overall success of the project. The Executive Sponsor serves as a conduit to their peers in other functions, and should be someone at a very senior level in the organization with enough influence across functions to clear any roadblocks that arise. The Executive Sponsor ensures that the project stays appropriately prioritized, that resources are available, and that accountability for delivery is enforced within each organization.


Step 2: Establish a Steering Committee

The next step is to create a Steering Committee that contains senior-level executive representation from each function involved. The Steering Committee serves two purposes: it ensures that each functional organization involved is kept informed as to project progress, and it helps to fast-track critical decisions. The Steering Committee is responsible for resolving top-level escalations, ongoing prioritization, and resource allocation within their respective functions. This group meets periodically to review the progress of the initiative, and takes action if necessary to ensure program success.


Step 3: Appoint a Program Manager

The next step is to identify the individual who will be directly responsible for overseeing the tactical execution of the project. This is a critical role as it ensures that there is a single point of contact to organize and track the tactical activities of individual team members, and that there is an owner to manage project communications, risks, and issues. For smaller initiatives, this may be a project manager that directly controls resources; for larger ones there may be a Program Manager that oversees several project managers responsible for delivery of individual projects within the overall program. Avoid “project management by committee” or “multiple project owner” approaches for large initiatives – they are exceedingly difficult structures to manage and drive success.


Step 4: Create a Program Charter

Finally, before tactical execution begins, a Project Charter should be created, usually by the Program Manager. The Project Charter is different from the Project Plan, as it serves to document what the project is expected to achieve, the resources required, and the expected timeline for execution. At a high level, the Charter should include:

  • Project Description, Goals and Objectives – an overview of the project, outlining expectations and objectives for the initiative.
  • Project Scope – describes the specific elements to be implemented, including process and technology components.
  • Implementation Team – articulates the overall team responsible for implementation activities as well as expected time commitments, including the identification of key stakeholders, internal business and technical resources, and outside vendors.
  • Roles and Responsibilities – defines the expectations and assumptions for each of the team members.
  • Implementation Approach – outlines the major elements by which the project will be governed, including project escalation, change management, and communication activities.
  • Milestone Schedule – identifies the major phases of the project, including expected timelines for delivery.


A Foundation for Success

Once these elements are in place, you’re ready to launch the initiative and drive its success. By following these steps, your organization ensures that the program has the foundation to get it started off on the right foot, and the governance processes to ensure successful management through its execution. It’s the ultimate zombie-killer.

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  1. July 15, 2016 at 7:10 am

    “A round of applause for your blog.Really thank you! Cool.”

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