Cross-Functional Planning – 5 Reasons It “Won’t” Work for Your Organization

Cross-functional planning streamlines the management of complex projects, reducing the risk of costly executional errors and increasing the odds of success. Still, many organizations hesitate to put cross-functional planning into action. Why? Here are the top 5 objections we hear.

Often used by BioPharma and BioTech organizations, cross-functional planning is the practice of managing a complex project using a single high-level, integrated plan in parallel with multiple focused functional plans. The high-level plan is strategic, long-term, and typically owned by a project management office (PMO). The functional plans are detailed, deliverable-oriented, and owned directly by the functions. Consider, for example, a pharmaceutical company planning the development of a new medicine. The high-level plan encompasses the overall process, from discovery to commercialization, while functional plans might include a clinical plan for Phase 1, a submission plan to the FDA, etc.

Most organizations that use cross-functional planning structure their plans as shown below: an overarching end-to-end inter-project plan (IPP) paired with multiple functional plans, with bi-directional visibility into shared milestones and key information.

Cross-functional planning can bring clarity to the complex process of planning for drug development, opening the lines of communication between the PMO and functional teams, mitigating the risk of costly scheduling conflicts, and boosting success rates. But can it really work at your organization?

Here are the 5 most common objections we hear to making the change to cross-functional project management:

1. “Our functions don’t have planners.”

It’s a myth that you need a full-time dedicated project manager to handle planning at the functional level. The reality is that someone is already doing this work. Who ensures that operational work happens on time, with the right resources, and at the allocated budget? If that responsibility exists in your RACI, you have a functional planner. Make that person’s life easier by giving them the tools they need to plan effectively and to communicate shared milestones and budgetary information with stakeholders at the higher level.

2. “It’s too much overhead to plan at two levels.”

It’s true that planning at two levels increases the ongoing workload. But does it increase the amount of work? Consider the extra work introduced by a lack of transparency between the high-level, strategic planning and the functions. Cross-functional planning:

• Avoids offline effort to:
 - Determine the latest status, needs, and projected timeline of each function
 - Analyze the impact this information could have on other functions
 - Communicate plan changes to affected functions

• Greatly reduces the manual effort required to report across the entire portfolio, including up-to-date cost, resource, and scheduling information from each function.

• Reduces the risk of costly rework if poor planning leads to project delays.

Beyond the manual effort required to coordinate the project, emergencies caused by poor planning can incur an enormous cost to resolve. Organizations that we have worked with tend to find that the steady, predictable workload of cross-functional planning amounts to less work overall than the sum of the peaks of emergency response.

3. “The functions are happy with their tools.”

“If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” — Woodrow Wilson

Your functions are happy with their tools, but are those tools modern, integrated, and aligned with corporate strategy? Does the benefit they provide outweigh the cost of IT to maintain them?

PMI’s 2018 Pulse of the Profession found that 71% of “Innovator” organizations create a culture that views disruptive technologies as an opportunity to evolve best practices, compared to only 3% of “Laggards”.

There may be some resistance initially, but we’ve generally seen that functions come to recognize the benefits of collaborative, cross-functional planning once they realize how much easier it makes their jobs:

  • A single, shared source of data eliminates miscommunications caused by using different names for the same thing.
  • Users of Planisware PPM solutions can copy an entire project structure or activity list from a pre-defined template or library in seconds, simplifying initiation of new projects and work packages while decreasing the potential for user error.
  • Because management has full access to real-time consolidated data from all functional plans, they can expedite approval of functional requests (for instance, for additional resources).
  • Strategic planners with access to up-to-date information on functional planning can better predict which functions would be impacted by changes to the high-level plan. Planners can consult affected functions before making updates, granting the functions the opportunity to voice concerns or suggest alternative solutions.

4. “Two levels of planning mean two sources of truth.”

Refer to objection #1. If someone is already responsible for planning at the functional level, a separate functional source of truth already exists — be it on a MS PowerPoint, in MS Project, in some other tool, or even in the head of a functional leader. By recognizing that planning is happening separately at the functional level and formalizing the link between the functional plan and the rest of the project, cross-functional planning integrates both levels into a single source of truth.

5. “I don’t want other people to see my plan!”

This is probably the most difficult objection to overcome when it comes to cross-functional planning. Functions may not want the rest of the organization to see how they plan, especially if the details aren’t pretty. However, the benefits of working through this fear of transparency are well worth the effort.

In a culture where the uglier side of planning stays hidden, planning can never improve. Shifting from a culture of hiding weakness to a culture of transparency and advancement is a much larger topic; however, cross-functional planning can be a driver for this important cultural change. Shared visibility presents an opportunity to spot and resolve operational weaknesses, and maybe even find a competitive edge.

Rest assured that your functions will still have control and independence within their plans. There are no added expectations, only the opportunity to improve planning practices, a tool to support project management, and an organization ready to stand behind them as they can exhibit their needs more eloquently.

Not sure if your organization is ready to implement and benefit from cross-functional planning? Check out our cross-functional planning white paper to see what it takes and how to get started, or get in touch.

(1)  The Project Manager of the Future: Developing digital-age project management skills to thrive in disruptive times (2018).