Matrix management, where project managers do not directly control their project resources, is the norm these days. The project team members report to department managers who can, and do, change their work priorities to suit their departmental needs. When these changes occur you might, or might not be informed. You are responsible for delivering on time and to budget with a team that can be changed at any time with little or no notice. That is why I call matrix management the bane of a project manager’s life.
In my opinion this form of management is a sign of an organization that doesn’t want to be run has a project based enterprise. It doesn’t want to cede power to program and project managers. It wants to retain the old paradigm of departments and managers. It is the departmental managers who create this compromise in order to maintain their existence and provide a career path in their discipline.
This form of management also makes creating a project schedule even more difficult. Now departmental managers won’t commit either resources or even estimates until you have started the project. Our bosses want firm schedules and accurate delivery dates and yet the key resources are uncommitted until the very last moment that we need them to start work.
And the situation is getting harder. In previous decades typically projects teams where based on a single site and the team shared a general cultural heritage. So a matrix management structure could be managed by informal discussions and personal relationships. Talk at lunchtime in the cafeteria, over a pint of beer after work, or around the water cooler could alert people to changes and issues and also lead to solutions.
Over time that paradigm has changed. Now most teams are displaced not only spatially, but also in time and culture. Now matrixed teams consist of Germans, Indians, Brazilians, and Chinese, with a smattering of Americans working from their own homes. Face to face meetings are becoming the exception. Your developer resources may have managers who are also displaced from them. Creating lasting relationships and personal influence in these circumstances is all but impossible.
So now there are political issues with your team and their remote managers. You now have more interfaces to manage within your team.
How do you do it? Well with great difficulty. It takes a great deal of organization and perseverance. You need to establish a frequent set of telephone conference calls, use video (skype is one) where bandwidth permits, web meetings, etc, anything that establishes a bond between you and your team (and their managers). You need a common glossary of terms and standard forms and charts. You need to get the team to talk about what else is going on in their lives: births, children, engagements, family events, anything that puts a human face on your team and helps build empathy and understanding. It has to be communicate, communicate, and communicate all the time.
The paradox we have to address is that has we move into a more technically interconnected world, we have in fact become more unconnected, in a personal sense, from our work mates.