Project Politics

Politics in the corporate arena are a fact of life and the project manager ignores them at their own peril. Politics are undoubtedly a factor of the high project failure rate reported by the Standish Group. Politics can be spun either positively as the art of influence or negatively as sucking up or manipulating, but regardless, it exists.

IT PMs, and probably PMs in general, are change agents by definition. Change is generally uncomfortable to people. Gopal Kapur of the Center for Project Management has said…

Politics in projects is natural because projects change the status quo and change means stress. The survival instinct kicks in. People want to make sure they can get the most resources they can and come out the least damaged.

The PMBOK woefully under-represents the role of politics in projects, but it does say the following.

Organizational politics are inevitable in project environments due to the diversity in norms, backgrounds, and expectations of the people involved with a project. The skillful use of politics and power helps the project manager to be successful. Conversely, ignoring or avoiding project politics and inappropriate use of power can lead to difficult in managing projects.

In his book Managing Politics and Conflict in Projects, Brian Irvin presents a simple method for dealing with politics.

  1. Identify stakeholders and influencers
  2. Gather information about them
  3. Identify their interests
  4. Assess their proximity to the project
  5. Assess their ability to influence
  6. Strategize how to manage their expectations
  7. Predict their behavior

He states the simple act of writing this information down either on paper or in Excel helps the project manager understand how to engage the politics.

Another tool to anticipate political situations is the old RACI chart. RACI is an acronym for the following.

  • Responsible: Who is responsible for actually executing the work
  • Accountable: Who is ultimately accountable for the work
  • Consult: Who should be consulted for input prior to executing the work
  • Inform: Who should be informed after the work is completed

Political concerns do qualify as project issues and/or project risks and must be managed.