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Questions:

1. Is there a name for the situation outlined below?

2. What can the Support Department Middle Manager do? 

Assuming no organization chart changes, there appears to be only two solutions to the situation outlined below: commit to very challenging goals to every Line Department "crucial" and urgent goal; or attempt to push back against Line Department Executive Leadership regarding the scope and/or timing of the project.  

Situation:

1. A Support department, such as IT, Data Analytics, R&D, etc provides cost and resource estimates for projects proposed by Line Departments.  The Line Departments don't provide a definite start date.

2. At a later date, the Line Department notifies the Support Department that the project will start immediately, without discussing the timing with the Support Department.  Sometimes, the start date has already been established with outside vendors, customers, or other third parties.  The start date is sometimes based on the Line Department calendar based ("MBO") goals.  

3. The Support Department, caught unaware, can't commit resources to the project start date and timeline set by the Line Department.

4. The Support Department supports many Line Departments with separate leadership structures, resources, and goals.  

Considerations:

1. The Support Department doesn't participate in Line Department incentive programs and bonuses.

2. The Support Department has been consistently reduced in size over the last several years.

3. The Support Department performance is primarily measured on subjective annual performance review ratings by Line Department peers and Senior Leaders.  In particular, the Support Department is rated on how responsive they are to Line Department needs, without respect to the reasonableness of the scope and timing of the needs.  

4. The Support Department is typically led by a Middle Manager reporting to the Vice-Presidential level,  or above.  That is, there are several management levels missing compared to typical Line Departments.  The Vice-President typically doesn't want to become involved in inter-departmental skirmishes, and downrates the Support Department Middle Manager's performance when the Vice-President's involvement is needed.  

5. The Line Department resources are ready, willing, and able to put all hands on deck to achieve the goals of the project.  The Line Department expectations are that the Support Department will also react in a similar manner, that is, working nights and weekends for possibly simultaneous Line Department projects.

6. Line Department Executive Leadership is often deeply involved and is willing to participate in pressuring the Support Department to commit to "crucial" goals of the organization.  

7. The Support Department can sometimes pull in external resources.  However, this assumes that the Support Department has capable resources available to manage the external resources.  

8. The Line Department often suggests that they are capable and available to perform the work typically performed by the Support Department.  This leads to contentious discussions about the capabilities developed by Support Department resources, which are typically experienced professionals in their respective fields. 

 

Notes:

1. The Support Department in this situation is not directly responsible for generating revenue or managing operating costs.  

2. The Line Department in this situation is directly responsible for generating revenue or managing operating costs. 

3. The situation described above may appear to be very specific and not typical.  However, in my admittedly limited experience as both a Line Department Manager and a Support Department Manager, this situation has been more routine than exceptional.  

 

jrb3's picture
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Several, only some printable, "organizational neglect" being probably kindest. :-/  One manager of mine called it "heavy retention-risk weather"

2/ Get advice from the VP about how he wants the conflicts resolved, and follow that.  Find out when Support Department is supposed to wind down, to get a sense of whether the neglect is intentional and what timing to anticipate for further attrition or bolstering.  (Outside of work, keep contact info for co-workers you want to network into next positions together.)

Meantime, specific coping strategies I have seen used include:

2.1/ Support Department gives estimates only to the next project in queue, when taken up by whoever's free. All else get queued and "numbers determined when we have resources available".

2.2/ Support Department states up-front that committed project resources are per approval criteria already set by the VP. Too slow to get capacity? Sorry -- help us get more people so we serve you sooner. You already committed funds and discover we don't have the five people you seem to need? Talk with us more, more often, and early enough you can get a clear sense of when we expect to get to your project. (... avoid the undercurrent of "sucks to be you right now" ...)

2.3/ The offending blind-sider gets a flat "no, we have no-one ready -- VP has told me to handle the conflicts without bothering him so I'm doing as he ordered -- this will be #13 on the stack for planning, should I swap it with your project BlahBlah which is #6". Any attempts to go over middle-manager's head must then go over VP's head.

2.4/ Support Department has a seriously bad case of "I'm not allowed to charge my customers appropriately". Or "we should be (or are about to be) completely replaced by an outsourced vendor". Can't tell without deeper understanding of the situation. Either way it's symptomatic of an organizational flaw requiring an organizational solution.

TSchow's picture
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1. This is normal busines operation, and you will need upper management support.

2. Below is what I have done and what has worked for others. You will need to communicate the impacts for not effectivly running a business.

Most importantly record these issues, and come up with a plan incase you get a chance to implement your plan when you become a general manager. These kinds of issues are not new, and will repeat with new people. In many ways support and production are diametrically opposed.

One a side note I am honestly surprised to read you do not have a daily status of upcoming projects which would help alleviate these kinds of issues. This kind of support meeting does not need daily, but would help if the communication was at least weekly for a week’s projection.

Strategies I have used:
1. If the person wants a change in priority, then explain the impacts. Most projects if they are started and restarted will cause rework, and a back slide of progress.
2. If they want everyone to stop and work on the latest fire drill then let them know the impacts to the organization.
3. Normally if they are going to outsource the project there is additional costs to the company not collected. For example the GE idea of outsource all of lower priority issues resulted in GE going bankrupt. The Rise and Fall of General Electric (GE) (investopedia.com)
4. If you do not have the proper communication give yourself the opportunity through walking the production line, and ask the line managers. If you do just make sure you can deliver on what they want.

j3snyder's picture
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To me, the key missing ingredient is viewing and treating the line department as your customer. You may not be able to control what they do, but you can certainly control what you do. It's not fair or right for how they are treating you as a partner, and you can make it easier by building relationships. You might consider peer O3s or a standing meeting to understand their business needs. Once they know you are "for" them, it may become easier to be kept in the loop earlier.