You run a lean project organization. You are an organized and dedicated PM, and you have the respect of your team. You know how to drive your organization to deliver project results. Then one day, work on your project stops. What happened?

If there is just one thing that you can count on as a project manager, it is that someday your project team will run into the wall of on-going operations. That day is today.

As business cycles change, subject to the winds of economic volatility, the impact often hits on-going operations first. Your project team is suddenly called to take on a greater operational role as functional managers struggle to meet organizational demands with existing staff. As a result, your project suffers.

But, the project must win. What can you do to help your organization, and your teams’ functional managers, understand the importance of the work their staff is performing on your project?

  1. Workload Planning. Make sure you have an intimate understanding of the specific time required for each team member to deliver their required tasks on your project. If you have planned thoroughly, you know how long each task will take and where those resources are coming from, but now the discussion will change. Take your data to the functional management and request a meeting to work through a workload planning matrix. Help them understand where the resource is coming from, how their time will be allocated, and most importantly, where you will be able to be flexible to help keep operations staffed fully and operating at peak efficiency. The message is this: You understand the importance of the operational environment and you are supportive of the manager’s needs. Now, how can you work together to meet the needs of the project, too?
  2. Seek Understanding. While your first effort is to work directly with functional managers to find a solution to your resource collision, it is equally important to present your findings to the project sponsor. Beware the urge to grovel, however. This is not a meeting for you to complain about lack of resources and cooperation from line management. Instead, arm yourself with the workload planning data and operational requirements, your team resource requirements, and present three alternative solutions to your resource puzzle. Will your schedule slip if you don’t get the team back to work? Will the budget increase as you are forced to deliver your project using outside contract labor? Or will you move key deliverables outside of scope? The message is this: You understand both the importance of the operational environment, and you are proactively working to deliver your project at the same time. Presented with this data, along with strategic recommendations, you will put your sponsor in the best position for providing feedback and guidance.
  3. What can you do? Planning takes time. You worked hard with your team to build a project plan that works, that takes into account all the variables of the project and the nuance of the schedule. But if you are going to make a case that you need resources from operations to deliver on your project promises, you have to show that you have taken every possible action to deliver your project without impacting operational requirements. For example, do you have resources on your team with skills that overlap? Do you have resources you could train to take on the skills of others? In short, how would you get your project done with fewer team members? What else could you do to show that you can deliver, and manage, with less?

This is a complicated process, and likely one of the most potentially-charged political discussions you will have. So, communicate with heart. Show that you truly understand the constraints, and that you will do whatever it takes to find a solution that works for all players with energy and humility.