Supply Chain Management: Cross-Functional Project Teams

By Daniel Stanton

Supply chains connect companies and cut across the silos within a company. As a result, supply chain projects commonly involve team members from many functions. A supply chain project team might include people from business development, customer services, shipping, receiving, manufacturing, information technology, accounting, and human resources. Managing cross-functional supply chain projects is a great way to develop a broad network and a deep understanding of the complexity of supply chains. The project manager must master the use of influence, pay careful attention to communications, and help team members manage their priorities for the benefit of the team.

Bringing people with diverse skill sets together as a project team can be a great way to stimulate innovation and accelerate change. Cross-functional project teams have some major challenges, too. Three of the most common challenges for cross-functional project managers are authority, communication, and prioritization.

Managing cross-functional supply chain projects is a great way to develop a broad network and a deep understanding of the complexity of supply chains. The project manager must master the use of influence, pay careful attention to communications, and help team members manage their priorities for the benefit of the team.

Authority

Authority means that you have the ability to hire, fire, reward, and correct someone. Often, key team members report to managers in another division in the company and are only loaned to the project, so it can be difficult for the supply chain project manager to address performance issues directly because they do not have the authority to do so. If the project manager doesn’t have the authority to manage the team members, she will need to rely on influence to keep all the team members pulling in the same direction.

Communication

Experts in any field have their own tools, rules, and language. In supply chain management, the same word can mean something different things depending on the context. For example, transportation companies (such as steamship lines and trucking companies) refer to their customer as the shipper, whereas their customers often use the term shipper to describe the transportation company. The project manager needs to be able to provide translation among functions and encourage people to explain what they’re trying to say without using jargon.

Priorities

When someone is asked to work on a project, that person may not get to stop working on other things; he or she may be working on several projects. If one of the other projects requires more time and attention, you must make sure that your project gets enough support to avoid getting into trouble. Anticipate potential problems so that you can make formal arrangements. You might make an agreement with the team member’s boss to ensure that your project has priority, for example. Or perhaps the team member’s boss may promise that the team member needs to commit a certain number of hours each week to your project.