Dear Elizabeth:

My team members are constantly being pulled away to help other teams with their projects. I can’t say anything because the requests often come from upper level management. How can I protect my team from being randomized? – The Randomizee

Dear Randomizee:

This is such a frustrating problem. You thought you could deliver by next month, and then suddenly your key resource is gone. Cue a huge reschedule and an unhappy sponsor (not to mention the upheaval in the team).

This comes down to not having clear priorities between projects. If your project is the most important company initiative then your resources are secure, because executives and stakeholders will be aware that it has to happen.

There are two things at play here: having those priorities in place, and people respecting them. First, get the priorities clear. You need someone to look at the portfolio of work and prioritize the projects—someone from your Project Management Office or a team manager. This person needs to give each project a clear ranking, so that everyone understands where each initiative fits in the grand scheme of things.

Second, respect the rankings. That means that if someone tries to pull your resources on to another project, and that project is less important than yours, you have something concrete backing you when you say no – even if the person is more senior to you. If the requester doesn’t listen to you, the overseeing project manager will back you up and you have the escalation route.

This also means that you have to respect the rankings. If someone needs your key people for a project that is more important than yours, then you must acquiesce. After all, you all work for the same company and it’s the company’s success that’s important. When a more strategically-driven initiative needs extra hands, everyone should rally to make that happen.

I know this isn’t an easy answer, but it’s the cleanest way to stop the act of randomizing people and breaking upteams at the whim of executives.

Every month, project management expert, Elizabeth Harrin, fields readers’ questions about the challenges, risks, and rewards of project work on the LiquidPlanner blog. This selection is used with permission.