Functional Expertise: The Neglected Asset

July 22, 2015
Functional Expertise: The Neglected Asset

Congratulatory emails fly from inbox to inbox.  Upper management thanks the project team and champion for a job well done, and asks what challenge is next on the docket.  Everyone views the project as a success, however, what is going on with the functional team?  Finance is frustrated because the macros work only 10% of the time; Operations is scrambling because in order to meet the deadline the sun, moon and stars need to align.  Everyone thought the project was going to be a win across the board, but when it came time for production, a disconnect arose.  The project missed important parameters during its lifecycle:  the right level of detail was not captured in the As-Is, critical parameters were not incorporated into testing, operational handoff was merely glazed over.  If any of this sounds familiar, here are a few project tips to help avoid such pitfalls.

Involve a Functional SME Early in the Project as a Consultant

“Why wasn’t this caught in testing?” is a question that comes late in the project lifecycle.  Project professionals are skilled in PM methodology, but they do not know that exchange rates are refreshed quarterly; an effective employment tax rate of 28% in Hong Kong is too high, 5% in UK is too low, etc.  A skilled functional SME can bring more than just a clear description of the As-Is to your project documentation; they can also provide you with insight to develop outstanding test plans and creative improvement ideas.  The goal of testing is less about proving what you built actually works against your expectations, and more about it still working when the unexpected occurs.  A functional SME can illustrate the curveballs and roadblocks that may affect operations from time to time, better mirroring testing to reality for a further developed, more resilient product rather than a nurtured product raised in the most optimal environment.  There can be small nuances that have material impact to the product produced or the service delivered, where incorporating intimate knowledge of the processes during the project can make go-live an eager day for the functional teams.  Ensure your RACI (Responsible-Accountable-Consulted-Informed) matrix takes full advantage of the SME up front in as many value-added opportunities as possible.

Treat the Functional Owner as a Customer

A customer is someone who purchases a product or service, however colleagues may be viewed simply as those who work at the same company.  The term “internal customer” helps to more clearly define the recipient’s role, so that a product or service delivered is more than just something thrown over the fence to another team, but rather an effective solution delivered in a professional way.  Involving your customer allows you to better understand their CTQs, along with the environment and challenges they have to manage.

Ensure Tollgates Serve Their Purpose

A formal review and signoff at each tollgate allows stakeholders to give the green light when a project is going well, but also hit the brakes when there is an unresolved issue or a significant risk.  Remember, the goal of a project is to deliver a valuable output to the customer; the goal of the project manager is to deliver this output on time and on budget.  A simple risks and issues log, reviewed on a regular basis, can help achieve these goals and prevent a project from being derailed at a tollgate by a stakeholder.  From an implementation tollgate perspective, a functional SME’s involvement in the risks and issues reviews can help ensure the operational readiness checklist and handover go smoothly.  Also, this may help prevent subsequent projects from being launched due to gaps or weaknesses in the principal project.   So, break down the silos and bring a functional person closer into the project.  This can help highlight challenges sooner and reduce the risk of operational issues during and after handoff.  And when upper management asks what’s next, you can confidently say, “A new initiative,” and mean it.

Related TranSigma article on Project Risks:

Project Issue Management – A Risk Based Collaborative Approach

Risk – Driven PMO Strategy