How project managers should work with support organizations

Inside the nether regions of large companies lurk individuals and offices that are part of executing a project but reside organizationally outside of the project’s chain of command. Placed within the somewhat amorphous group of support organizations are specialists in IT, travel, legal, facilities, HR and many more. A project manager rarely interacts with these individuals, but when their support is needed, there are ways to gain quick efficient help and methods that ensure your request is at the bottom of their to-do list.

Do your homework
If you are new to being a project manager or new to an organization, find out what support organizations are available and what their authority is. A few corporate documents that help are organization charts and the P&P (policy and procedure) or SOP (standard operating procedures) manuals. I know that reading the SOP manuals is no one’s idea of pleasure reading, but at least skim the titles in the table of contents to get an idea of what’s available.  And who knows— they may even be online for reference!

Look at the signatures required on routine forms like travel requests, conference room reservations, document releases, network access requests and presentations. Introduce yourself and your project to the people in those areas.

Before you have to work with the support organization to get something done that has a deadline, find out what information they need from you and their typical processing timeline. Build that into your project schedule.

If in doubt, check with a secretary or admin. You might have thought I was going to say, “see your supervisor or manager”. However, in my experience, the people who best understand how things get done are not higher in your management chain, but rather the office and administration staff.  They are the ones that have to “get it done.”

What to do
Put sufficient time into preparing support service requests and allow them time to respond. Remember the secretary’s motto:

“Your failure to adequately plan does not constitute an emergency for me.”

If possible, walk the papers or send the email yourself. I try to make sure that my dealings with support staff are good and friendly so that they remember me.  Make sure you provide everything the support service needs to do their job. After a reasonable amount of time (an hour or a day, depending), check back. Ask if they need any additional information. Offer to pick up the document or materials rather than wait for the inter-office delivery system. Use both opportunities to get to know the support personnel as people and not functions. In addition, let them get to know you.

When the task is completed—especially if the task was complicated or outside normal business operations—thank them personally for their work on behalf of your project. If the effort was particularly noteworthy, provide a more formal “thank you” to their manager (see organization chart) emphasizing how they helped meet broader organization goals. This not only makes them feel good and part of the team, it will establish a warmer reception for your next support request.  I have been known to drop off a box of doughnuts or candy after someone has really gone the extra mile to help me out.

If something goes wrong—late, incorrect, rejected—leave your ego at the door and try to understand. Offer to help, if possible, or learn from the experience. A Mind Tools article on “Conflict Resolution” suggests the best way to solve a conflict is to keep good relationships a top priority, separate people from problems, and explore options together.

What NOT to do

  • Act as if your project is the only one they have to support.
  • Be an anonymous voice demanding action—see “get to know the support service people”.
  • Try to bully them into cooperating. No matter how high on the org chart you may be or how important your project is to the organization, you do not want the support organizations as enemies.
  • Cop an attitude.
  • Fail to confirm the facts.

Support organizations can help you do your project management job or they can make your life miserable. The ball is in your court. Share your experiences and recommendations on working cooperatively with support organizations in your company via comments.



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