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Case Study

How to Attain Support for Cross-Functional Projects

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Align with company goals, build relationships, and find your funding

Many IT professionals embark on cross-functional projects with the assumption that collaboration happens naturally. But without strong leadership and established channels of communication, these projects are destined to fail. A study from the Harvard Business Review revealed that 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional. This may not come as welcome news if you’re gearing up to launch a project, but Seabeck Systems is here to help you understand the best ways to avoid the most common pitfalls.    

First, you'll need to go outside the IT department to gain the support of your organization. This entails understanding how your project aligns with company goals, learning who the stakeholders are, and determining where your funding will come from.  

Define your goal in a project charter

Having a well-defined goal from the beginning helps you understand the types of resources you’ll need. Still, it’s difficult to grasp the entire picture without input from your team, especially from those outside your department.

Use a Project Charter as your game plan to achieve alignment. The Project Charter details the purpose of your project and explains why stakeholders should support it. Below are examples of what the typical charter needs to address:

  • Business opportunity or problem(s) being solved
  • Strategic company goals your project supports
  • Stakeholders and their project roles
  • Definition of how success will be measured  
  • Process for change management
  • Project scope
  • Preliminary timeline
  • Project risks and mitigations
  • Estimated cost (+/-25% accuracy)

Be as transparent as possible about how the project will affect and benefit other departments. You'll need to speak a bit of each team’s language, clearly articulating how the problem you aim to solve ties into one (or more) of their priorities. Even if your project has the potential to improve the entire company, some departments may hesitate to offer support if the goal is not relevant to their immediate priorities.  

Citing similar initiatives from industry leaders also helps justify the necessity of your project. Including relevant Case studies provides hard evidence your project will fulfill a company and departmental goal. However, you should always provide full transparency; avoid glossing-over any of the project's potential limitations. Instead, take time to explain how you plan to address these potential project flaws or challenges. This will show you've considered the cross-functional project from all angles and will go a long way toward building trust.  

Overcome resistance within IT

Don't work your way up the chain of command until you get your own team on board. It’s tough enough for business IT teams to get what they need to do their jobs. Another project on their plate—particularly one that involves departments they seldom interact with—could raise concerns.  

Inform your team of the timeline, who you need to work on the project, and how helping the company achieve a goal will make IT’s workflow more efficient in the long-run. Cross-functional projects can be leveraged into lasting lines of communication: getting IT what they need more quickly, and accelerating the completion of cross-functional projects in the future.  

Determine the source of your funding

Cross-functional work involves multiple departments, which raises the question, “Where will the funding come from?” Companies often rely on small projects that support larger strategic aims, and funding often comes from within the IT department -- even when the project relies on additional teams or delivers primarily business services and value.  

The size of an organization may also impact how a project is financed. At large enterprises, portfolio management governs the projects that support key strategic goals. This means you’ll have to interact directly with the C-suite to fund a major, cross-functional project.  

Don't worry. You won’t have to do this alone.  

Build a business case for your project  

If you have doubts about the goals your project addresses, consider tapping into an existing strategic aim. For instance, let’s assume your company needs to modernize its software. One of your contacts at a branch office needs the software update to complete another valuable project. By teaming up with this person, you’ll gain an advocate for your project whose influence can ensure success.  

As you build your network, you may recruit the assistance of product managers, solution architects, and marketing managers to fine-tune your business case. If time and resources permit, consider leveraging your network to produce a Proof of Concept (POC) and then the Minimum Viable Product (MVP).  

Holding a POC demonstration gives you the opportunity to bring together leaders in business and IT. Once the stakeholders are able to visualize a functioning solution, you’ll gain more support across the organization. This goes a long way in alleviating resistance to funding an expensive project. Whichever method you use to build your business case, take care to incorporate the insights of those who work closely with the C-suite; they know what will grab the executives’ attention. And keep the momentum going with persistent communication between you and your fellow evangelists. Don’t assume one meeting with key decision makers will just make it happen.  

When the time comes to present your case, keep these points in mind:  

  • Be concise: Executives have a short attention span. Front-load the most important information in the first 2-3 slides. Make sure to highlight ROI.  
  • Be visual: Simplify your points by including graphics.  
  • Be face-to-face: When possible, get the executives in the same room (virtual or not) with the other stakeholders.  
  • Be persistent: Maintain one-on-one relationships with the stakeholders after the meeting. This ensures continued alignment and makes it easier to anticipate changes to the agenda or potential risks.  

Review past steps and look ahead to the launch

As you wait for approval, look ahead to the launch of your project. There’s a good chance you’ll need to refine your scope, which will affect the formation of your roadmap. It can feel like you’re taking two steps forward only to take three steps back, but you are making progress. Just look at how much you’ve accomplished already:  

  • Determined how the project will be funded.
  • Identified stakeholders by deepening your understanding of the organizational structure.  
  • Built a strong business case by working cross-functionally.
  • Developed a network of project evangelists across the organization.
  • Mitigated or eliminated the barriers between your team and the C-suite.  

These are no small feats. And we’re excited to help you with the next phase. When you're ready to launch your cross-functional project, be sure to take a look at our next article in the series: Launching and Leading Cross-functional Projects in IT to help you get started.  

And if you need any help attaining support for cross-functional IT projects at your organization, please don't hesitate to reach out to us with any questions or concerns. Seabeck Systems is a business and IT consultancy that provides proven strategies, clear processes, and actionable roadmaps for Fortune 1000 leaders who feel overwhelmed with complex business and data demands. As a full-stack provider, we implement the systemic change necessary to convert our clients' business objectives into action. We'd love to help you get started.

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