The Over-Management Issue, Part 2: Too Much of a Good Thing

Group of a many business people sitting in the office.

The over-management or overstaffing issue on a project is easily solvable when you are spending the customer’s money rather than your company’s funds. For projects internal to your company, overstaffing can incur significant risks that are often overlooked during project initiation. Here’s an example:

A government agency had an internal project that was estimated to take two years to complete. When the project was first planned, it was estimated that 118 people would be needed, many of them just on a part-time basis. The organizational structure for the entire government agency was a matrix structure that promoted the fact that resources could be shared among several projects at the same time.

The sharing of resources was a problem for the project manager. Although he knew that the sharing of resources was the correct thing to do for the organization as a whole, he was worried more about his own project. History taught the project manager that there would undoubtedly be problems that would occur on other projects, and resources would be removed from his project to help put out the fires. On some of his previous projects, the resources never even returned, leaving him with a void that was hard to fill and impacting his time and cost baselines.

The project manager wanted all of the resources assigned full time to his project. While he believed he could argue this point well and get the functional managers to agree, there was still the risk that resources could be removed from his project because the resources still physically resided in their functional areas.  The project manager decided that a co-located team of 118 people would be best. He found a government building that had two vacant floors and had all 118 people removed from their functional areas and reassigned to these two floors. Now the chance that they would be removed from his project, temporarily or permanently, was diminished.

As the project proceeded, many of the resources who were needed only part time on the project became bored with the lack of constructive working. The project manager began assigning these people mundane work just to keep them busy. But overall, the project was on schedule and senior management was happy with the progress.

Unfortunately, the rosy picture soon turned sour. The wage and salary function was still in the hands of the functional managers rather than the project manager. During the performance review process, none of the 118 people working on the project were promoted even though many of them were considered outstanding workers.

Since the workers were physically removed from their functional managers, the functional managers had little contact with them and could not validate their performance. Also, the functional managers decided to promote those workers who sat beside them every day and whose performance embellished the functional managers in the eyes of their senior managers.

Simply stated, what the project manager actually did by creating a co-located project was make his project a non-promotable assignment for 118 workers.

Many of the workers tried to leave the project and get reassigned to their functional areas of expertise. For many of these workers, they soon discovered that their previous positions had been filled by others and that they would hopefully be reassigned to other government agencies at the completion of the project.

I don’t intend to downplay the importance of co-located teams. They do work and work well. But there are some issues that must be understood:

  • People can work on co-located teams on a part-time basis.
  • The need for effective, continuous communication between the workers and their functional managers is essential from a wage and salary perspective.
  • Workers must still have a home in the functional area well after the co-located team project is completed.
  • If functional managers know that there will be a co-located team and that they might lose these workers for a long period of time, the functional managers may be inclined to assign their poorest performing workers to the project just to get rid of them.
  • Giving the project manager wage and salary responsibility for long-term, co-located projects may seem like a reasonable approach, but then there is always the issue of what happens to the workers when the project is completed and the team is disbanded.
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