How to Lead (and Survive) a Cross-Functional Team Project

How to Lead (and Survive) a Cross-Functional Team Project

Want to do more than just “survive” cross-functional projects? Find out how to surpass expectations and optimize this workflow.

Running a project is hard enough when you’re managing just one team. Now imagine running several together. This is the life of a cross-functional team manager.

Running a multi-team project is no easy task. The more people from various departments and functions that come together to work on a collective goal, the messier things get. Not to mention the fact that each team member is already busy with priorities from their own department.  

If you’re a cross-functional team leader, worry not. We’ve got you covered with this handy five-minute guide that will help you navigate those rough cross-functional team waters like a boss.

Leverage the cross-functional team’s expertise

No project manager out there knows it all, so choose experts from each of the teams you are working with to delegate tasks to and seek input from. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor by one person.

Lead the planning, but don’t make the plan

As a project manager, you’re in charge of making sure that there is a plan. Yet you shouldn’t define the whole plan yourself and micromanage execution.

Here are some suggestions that will help you get a good high-level plan together:

Manage scope creep

Scope creep is the number one cause of projects being late or cancelled. Make sure you control that by:

  • Saying “yes” or “no” from day one. Saying no doesn’t mean you actually have to say “NO,” it just means “not now.” If you phrase it that way, you’re less likely to make enemies, and more likely to set the tone for the rest of the project. Deciding what is or is not in the scope of your project early on will set people’s expectations, and protect your team from biting off more than they can chew.
  • If you absolutely must accommodate scope creep, consider using a change order form in order to do a proper cost-benefit analysis prior to altering the plan.

Coordinated, but independent

Different teams work in different ways. Your job as project manager isn’t to make your experts walk in lockstep, but rather to give them the freedom to operate in a way that works best for them. Remember that each expert from each team has their own priorities outside of your project, so find a system that keeps everyone on the same page without interfering with their personal workflows.

  • Minimize interference between project goals and each expert’s own priorities. We’ve found that letting each expert operate in the work management tool of their choice (such as Asana or Trello) helps ensure that. Simply create a cross-functional team project in whatever tool you prefer, and use Unito to sync this project into the tools your experts are using. For example, if your project is in Trello, but your web developer works out of Jira, you can sync any issue requests to Jira, where the developer can manage and solve them at her convenience.

    Doing so means you will have to schedule less checkpoints for individual teams to report back to the project manager. All updates will be automatically synced from tool to tool and team to team, in real time.
  • Use OKR goals. We’ve also found that using OKRs keeps teams focused on their own contributions while preventing redundant or conflicting tasks. These goals are still timeline-based so the project schedule is preserved despite splitting each team’s efforts.

Communicate asynchronously

“More meetings” is rarely the solution to a problem. Instead, be very clear and communicate what’s happening via Slack or through a work tracking tool. Asynchronous daily standups can help team members understand what’s going on at their own pace. Real-time asynchronous communication also has the added benefit of instantly communicating critical updates to a scattered team.

As with any project, the key to success with cross-functional team planning is to stay organized. Keep your teams and their roles distinct so it’s easy to track responsibilities and deliverables. Protect your project plan from unwarranted changes that may end up complicating the overall plan. Finally, establish measurable and achievable goals for your project to give all teams a clear direction.

Unito can help you keep your cross-functional teams in sync.

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