Competing Interests

Managing A Program Containing A Rival's Project Is A Tricky Balancing Act

By Marat Oyvetsky, PMP

It's a dream role for consultant organizations: oversee an entire program for an enterprise customer. But things can get tricky for IT program managers. Larger enterprise customers tend to rely on multiple technical partners to help drive their projects, as this helps minimize risk and promote competition between partners.

Challenging situations can arise for program managers. In some cases, they might find themselves responsible for an IT program containing projects being executed by both their organization's teams and competitors’ teams. The conundrum is this: How can a program manager promote the success of his or her own organization while still supporting the success of the customer's entire program?

Here are the three big lessons I've learned.

1. Stay Balanced

It's always easier to favor your own team. But when you're responsible for the success of IT initiatives being executed by your competitors, the playing field changes. Direct competitors find themselves under your leadership and direction. It's important to treat each project with priority, attention and fairness. It's not just about leading your team to success anymore—it's about making the customer's overall success synonymous with your success.


It might seem strange to promote the accomplishments of competitors. But striking this new balance is mandatory.

2. Build Relationships

Competitors often will not be friendly. They might be apprehensive about sharing information, due in part to concerns about disclosing proprietary information and losing a competitive advantage.

But building relationships with a competitor's account managers and project managers is essential—without them, cohesion across the program is impossible. So where to start? In my experience, laying the foundation of a new partnership can be as simple as including the competition's engineering and project management team during customer design and scorecard review meetings. There's a bonus benefit: The customer can gain confidence that there is cohesion among teams across the program.

It's not just about leading your team to success anymore—it's about making the customer's overall success synonymous with your success.

3. Build Trust

Trust is hard to earn and easy to lose. It's even harder to build trust with competitor teams than with a customer. The key is to make clear as the program manager that your leadership approach with each project team is exactly the same regardless of organizational affiliation.

It is crucial to get in the trenches to strengthen the delivery of all projects. For example, ensure that a competitor's team has outlined dependencies throughout the program among its projects, your organization's projects and other competitors’ projects. (At the Fortune 500 company, there were four consulting vendors in the program mix.)

When teams trust that you are leading them to project success—rather than just guarding your own reputation—company affiliation will become irrelevant. PM

img Marat Oyvetsky, PMP, is program director at Evotek, San Diego, California, USA.



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