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Potential Conflict Between Line and Project



Prof. Dr. Ulrich Anders

If you believe that the eternal struggle goes on between heaven and earth, or between fire and water, then you are wrong. The eternal struggle takes place in companies between line functions and projects.

The line is the fixed structure, the hierarchy, through which a defined function is carried out. It has to deliver results, meet the deadlines, prepare certain ordered components. The line ensures that the product can be manufactured or the service can be provided. It runs in a known cycle and is firmly integrated into the defined processes of day-to-day operations.

The project, on the other hand, is anarchy. It only serves one goal: to change the fixed structure of the line, to transfer one process to another, to introduce a new process, to improve the resources or to even change the product.

Can Line Functions and Projects be Friends?

It goes without saying that these two company parts cannot be friends. Their objectives are too different. But much worse: further animosity is fueled by the fact that the line usually has to hand over people to the project --- and of course always the best, those who have the most knowledge.

After that, the line functions are left with the old timing and the old requirements, just with fewer people. The line struggles to fill its gaps.

On the other hand, the project does not have the bargaining power of the line. The project’s means are mainly escalation.

And the people? In the line functions, they often look down on the people in the project, on those »who don’t know the reality«. And in the project, yes, they look no less seldom down on the people in the line, on the yesterday people who are not part of the change.

Does it have to be that way? No, not at all.

It doesn’t work without the line. It is the backbone of the company. To hurt it is not smart. And it doesn’t work without the projects either. Without them, the company would have no future and would get stuck to the status quo.

Therefore, the synthesis between line and project is one of the most important management tasks. The goal must be an organization in which the line and the project stand side by side on an equal footing. Both need to understand the importance of the other. Both have to fight their own battle for scarce resources, but not against each other.

If the management succeeds in alleviating or resolving the conflicting goals between line and project, in developing an honest understanding for both sides and in supporting both sides equally, then it has done a lot for the success of the company.

In order to achieve this a good and working steering committee is key. Members are just not sitting in the committee, but especially between line functions and projects they need to:

  • give support
  • remove obstacles
  • allocate resources
  • set priorities
  • resolve conflict.

Good status reporting can help here. Only if the members of the steering committee are well informed, the will be able to carry out their mandate.

© Prof. Dr. Ulrich Anders

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