Top 5 Tips for Managing a Cross-Functional Team Project [Guest Post]

Team projects can be a hassle to keep on top of, but you know what’s even worse? A cross-functional project that requires several teams to deliver it. Between differing priorities, work styles, deadlines for deliverables, and so on, there’s basically a 100% chance that something is not going to work out exactly how you’d planned it.

Don’t panic. There are plenty of best practices you can follow to minimize the risk of something going wrong, minimize fallout if it does, and ensure your cross-functional team responds quickly to the issue.

What are those best practices? We’re glad you’ve asked.

  1. Simplify your processes
  2. Publicize project schedule
  3. Align on goals, not work
  4. Listen.
  5. Celebrate wins publicly.

 

1. Simplify the procedures

There’s no process so simple that someone can’t mess it up.

Members of your cross-functional team will likely only have an hour or two to devote to the problem (the cross-functional project) before they dive back into their own responsibilities. For this reason, you need to simplify and add lightness to the project wherever you can.

You will find a much higher rate of success in implementing cross-functional project procedures if you minimize the time a team member has to spend following them. Look for ways you as a manager or a PM can take that work on instead. For example, you can have everyone put thoughts for a project into a backlog, and manage it yourself.

Or, when team members are requesting features or changes to the scope of a project, you can have them fill out a minimum number of fields, and do the in-depth analysis of the request yourself.

Taking these steps will minimize the time required to train team members on doing new procedures, and will let them get to work on the real problem that they’re trying to solve sooner.

 

2. Publicize the project schedule

80% of successful management is repetition. If you want your cross-functional team to care about the project goals or deadlines, clarify what the deadlines are and why they matter. If a project slipping means that the company won’t grow as fast as projected, or that the new plant in Oakland isn’t going to open in time to create new jobs, be clear about that.

Makes sure your team understands the importance of the work they’re doing and establish the stakes of the project.

If someone’s struggling to make their deadline, clarify how delays will affect the project and the whole company. This can be a great way to motivate them to complete their part of the project on time.

One great way of showing high-level timelines is using some kind of project board that links tasks to their dependencies. We find its best to keep this board a simple flat view of only high-level tasks. This helps keep the whole team aligned with what they’re working on vs. what needs to be done next.

 

3. Align on goals, not work

You don’t want people showing you how busy they are by talking for 10 minutes in your daily scrum. You don’t need team members sending you emails at 10:30 pm on a Friday showing how hard they’re crunching while you’re at home watching Netflix.

Instead, align your team around the idea that the goal, not the work, is the valuable metric. If someone can get all of her work done in 4 hours and lark off for the rest of the day, that’s honestly a better result for team productivity and deliverability than if she worked 18 hours a day for a week and still didn’t have her work finished.

At Unito, we like OKRs as a good way to measure how well we’re hitting out project goals. The OKR system requires that every team member have well-defined Areas of Responsibility (AoRs). This way, there’s no question where the buck stops for given fields of work.

 

4. Listen

When you’re managing a team whose members each occupy different areas of expertise in the company, it is crucial that you listen to everyone in your team. Good ideas come from all kind of sources, and the best part of a diverse cross-functional team is there are more viewpoints to generate ideas from.

If some of your team is more outspoken than others, you’ll need to work on your active listening skills and make sure you encourage the quieter folks to contribute too. Not only does this give you the chance to pick their brains for great ideas, it also helps make sure that everyone you’re talking to is engaged in the conversation.

It’s important to remember that each team has its own rules—spoken and unspoken—regarding how communication should be done. Make sure that you’re listening to the feedback they’re giving—verbal and nonverbal—about how you should communicate in the future.

 

5. Celebrate wins publicly

It’s important that your team be a place of trust where people are invested in helping each other win, rather than scoring points off each other in some kind of big game of work politics. If you want to cement your cross-functional team together for the long haul, few things work better than to publicly praise team members for their contribution to the project. To avoid teamwork issues, be sure to never publicly criticize team members, but follow these constructive feedback guidelines instead.

If project deadlines do slip, let stakeholders outside your team know as soon as you’re aware that the schedule has changed. 

 

Aligning a cross-functional team can be a lot of work, especially under a tight deadline. Keeping these tips in mind will help your team members invest more of themselves in the project you’re working on, communicate more clearly with you when things go wrong, and give you the kind of support that helps you eke out wins.

 

Guest Author Bio

Trevor Longino is the CMO at Unito.io, a tool for improving team collaboration, communication, and efficiency, by synchronizing the tools they use to manage their tasks. He has grown 5 different startups to #1 in their market niches. Trevor specializes in building awesome teams, and developing award-winning products and campaigns.

 

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