I am currently in charge of the development and maintenance of all current and new web applications for the company I work for. I report directly to the president and VP of the company because technically I am the only one in my department. (I'm a programmer).

I do manage 2 contractors (who work outside the company) that the company has personal ties with. That's not an issue, I know their role and my role, and we work well together.

The issue is with testing. The applications are insurance applications. So people in-house test the applications for compliance with insurance standards, and to make sure that the flow makes sense from an insurance standpoint.

These people are not under me directly, but I can't finish my work unless they test so I am in charge of keeping them on track and accountable for the testing.

This leaves me in a bind a lot of times. I need them to be testing to meet my deadlines but they have lots of phone calls to take care of or clients to talk to.

I talked to the VP about this and she told me to "Manage the projects (meaning, keep everyone accountable) while not managing the people."

So TL:DR How do I manage projects without having the authority to manage the people who are involved in the projects. (That authority hasn't been given to me).


5 Answers 5


There are a lot of projects out there where the "project manager" and the "resource manager" are different people. It's not necessarily an impossible setup - but it does require that everyone be on the same page.

Generally the line that is drawn is that the project manager manages the resources and the resource manager manages the people. If the people aren't skilled enough, efficient enough or have work-performance problems - it falls on the resource manager to fix it. If there isn't enough man-power, computing resources, or other tools needed to do that job - the project manager figures out how to wrangle them.

That still splits the people - because "people hours" is a resource. But getting adequate and timely work hours from personnel is usually a conversation between a project manager and a resource manager.

Time for a Conversation

It sounds like you've hit the time when a meeting with the tester's resource manager is a good plan. I'd make sure the meeting includes:

  • Confirm the resource manager's awareness of your project timeline
  • Verify that resource manager is prepared for the resources allocated to be spending X number of hours per week testing your project.
  • Make the resource manager aware of how many hours a week have actually been available so far, and why this is putting your project schedule at risk

You are likely to get 1 of 3 reactions:

  • "Wow! I didn't know that! They told me everything was fine - let's make a plan that gets you what you need, I know how important your project is!" Followed by some form of reasonable plan to make sure that the other priorities don't continue to trump your work.

  • "Well... you see... we have these other priorities we can't drop" which is the polite way of saying "this other work is more important than your work, so I'm going to continue to go the way we are going". At which point, it's time to return to your boss and say "there are no available resources for this project, the schedule will slip" and let bigger guns take over.

  • "My people can't do what you want them to" - either they don't have the skills or don't have the tools. At which point, it'll be up to you and the resource manager to work through this, but at least you can work together.

Keep People Engaged

Don't let the resource manager who does manage the people off the hook. Include them in your status reports. First status report after the conversation should be something like:

  • I started these status reports to keep everyone aware of our progress.
  • These are the key days
  • This is our current status
  • Current Risks - (big risk) slip in schedule from lack of availability of testers.
    • mitigation: I really want to thank X resource manager - we worked through the problem and he's committed to do XYZ to get testers on board.

Further status reports cover the last 3 bullets and report on the recovery (or lack thereof) of the schedule.

While I favor conversations for fixing problems, status reports in written (email) form are much better for tracking accountability. No one can deny you sent it, you can copy many people, and they provide a documented record of the history. As such, they have more weight and when a status report shows a project going sour, people tend to take it more seriously (presuming you can get people to pay attention in the first place).

  • Thanks for taking the time to write this all out. A lot of food for thought here.
    – Ryan
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 20:50
  • BTW - the best resource manager I ever worked for didn't just ask for the status reports, she required anyone working for her provide some form of them. :) Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 21:00
  • Excellent answer. I would add, that if you get the response that they really don't have time, it is now an excellent time to propose to your management that what you need is a testing team and you can use the people who would like to not spend the time to help you push this through as they woudl probably like the burden of testing removed from them as well. People who have something else as their main duty will almost never find the time to do thorough testing and since you are in a regulated industry, you really need a good group of professional testers.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 18:52
  • @HLGEM - great idea! Especially if they are testing basic functionality cases and not "does this work for the business?" cases. Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 19:03

Truthful answer?

You don't.

The people are an integral part of the Project, there is no project without people.

You've been tasked with managing these people and their deadlines in order to deliver your product on time.

You need to be able to know what they are doing and why they are doing it, you need to know when they are meeting milestones and you need to know what is stopping them from working effectively.

Despite it being called a Project manager you don't manage a project, you manage the people who work on the project!

So you're going to need to make sure you know as much as you reasonably can! The more you know the more effective of a PM you can be. The more you understand their problems, their issues and their weaknesses the more effective you will be at finding solutions and removing obstacles for them.

If they are losing time due to other phone calls for other projects then talk to the other Project Manager of that project.

The system we have is a sort of time share system, where people will be booked to say do Project X for 3 days a week and Project Y for 2 days. That way their time is split fairly and you can then know when they should definately be working on your project.

See if they need to be fielding client calls or if thats something someone else is meant to be doing or capable of doing. Currently its an obstacle, see if you can remove it, if not try and improve the situation, remove as many obstacles as you can so that when they are working on your project they are working efficiently and effectively



If you cannot manage the people but you have to make them accountable, the only thing you can do is make everything as transparent as possible, so that whomever does manage the people can do so.

Kanban and Scrum are very effective ways of doing this, in my experience, but there are others. Transparency is the word to keep foremost in your mind.

Make things visible, expose the tasks that block your tasks. Ask the team first, what they can do about it. If that fails, go back to management.


Define the tasks that need to be completed

This will include the testing. Communicate these needs to the resources that will be required to complete them.

Get commitment to complete the assigned tasks

Have the insurance leader commit to completing the testing and feed back.

Get regular status updates

Regular status meetings are key to keeping a project moving forward. They can let team members know when they are holding up progress, and when they can start on their part of the tasks ahead of time, or plan to push them back as needed.

Report on the status of the project

Make sure that you are reporting the successes and tasks completed as well as those missed. If missed deadlines are pushing out end dates make sure you are communicating that to the whole team.

Trim the Fat

As the end date gets pushed out look for features you can suggest cutting from the release. The less changes and features made the less there is to test. These cuts can bring the project back on target for completion date.


When we do something like this, we treat the other department as though they were an outside company: we ask them for a time quote, and hold them to it, making absolutely sure to hold up our delivery dates. Then if the project goes overtime, we can tell upper management that "We delivered a final codebase to security for a scan on XX-YY-ZZZZ, and they quoted us on X1-Y1-ZZZZ that they would have the code scanned by X2-Y2-ZZZZ." We don't, strictly speaking, care how they go about their jobs or how efficient they are, only that they don't delay the project. It's up to their team leadership to determine how much of their time to devote in order to meet the deadline.

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