As a project manager we have our own project and often have to fight to keep resources and schedules running right according to our project management tools. So what do we do when that other project manger comes requesting our resources? Do everything we can to help them out.
I learned at a young age to “support the other guys initiative.” If someone needed help doing something or someone was implementing an improvement effort, I went out of my way to support their effort. Yes, it took time away from my primary responsibilities, but it always paid dividends. When I then needed help to support something I was trying to do, more often these same folks would return the favor and readily help me with my initiative or project.
Not everyone will respond this way, however. I was managing a big project for our company on one of the major product lines. I needed some specialized folks to work on a particularly nasty problem that occurred with our system. I went to another project manager who was running the main project on another product line. He barely listened to my request to borrow a few key people for a few days. He just said no. No discussion. No interest in seeing what could be worked out. His project was several months in front of ours and in many ways was seen as the “right way to do it” project at that time. We finally worked out our problem and ended up sneaking a bit of help from the experts who were sympathetic to our plight.
About a year later the other project manager and I stood together in front of our largest European customer to present a lessons learned from our two products that we had just delivered to them. He went on about how they fought and overcame tremendous technical issues, worked his team around the clock at the customer’s site, and finally delivered the product – working well enough – and only a few months late. They would be delivering a quick update of the product in a few weeks to take care of the remaining issues. His briefing went on for some time and generated a lot of questions including skepticism about the “fix” delivery and if he really did figure out how to avoid these kind of problems in the future.
It was my time to stand up and deliver our lessons learned. I could tell that the customer team was restless and wanting me to get through my briefing quickly. I swiftly summarized that we had delivered on time and we too would have a refresh release in the next six months to do a few more things the customer had newly identified. Their reaction? “Yes, yes, we know. Thank you for finally delivering a product when we asked for it. If you don’t have anything else you want to mention, we have another place we need to be.” The meeting was over. The other place they needed to be? Downtown Chicago. It was the holiday period and they had flown in from overseas and were now looking forward to doing some holiday shopping.
During the course of our project we had readily loaned resources to other projects. This willingness to help the other guy out and in turn get help when needed was one of many reasons we were to achieve our unprecedented on time delivery. This other project, attempting to hoard its resources in a belief that it would help them do better, performed as similar projects had performed in the past. Poorly. In other articles I mention how getting the project management tool schedule right was the real crux of our success. It is important to note that while being successful we did not have to hoard and protect our resources but in fact had often loaned out critical resources to help other projects when it was needed.
Our ability to help other projects and still be successful was one more indicator that the project had a good plan and especially a good schedule. Project managers that felt the need to fight off all requests to borrow resources or otherwise help other projects were characterized by notably less success than we had.