Guidelines for Managing Project Politics
Projects and Politics are inextricably linked which means that there is not a single organisational project in which there is not a need to actively manage Politics. Important as it is to identify and manage project Politics by applying the appropriate strategy to manage them, you also need to consider the risk of project Politics dominating your project.
Also read the first part of this article: About Project Politics
In the context of project management, politics need to be managed in a way that enhances their positive impact while minimising their negative impact on the project’s goals. Developing a good understanding of the pre-project conversations, conflicts, decisions, and compromises provides a good starting point for understanding the politics of the project.
Remember that in Politics one wins through actions, never through argument and therefore their effective management requires the development of particular skills such as bargaining, negotiation, influence, and conflict management.
In the management of Politics, you need to ask (and answer) the following questions:
- How much consideration of project politics is needed?
- How much time and attention should I invest in managing Politics at a given phase of a project?
- What is my capacity to deal with the identified politics and what is the best course of action?
There are many reasons that result in effectively managing Politics:
Reasons for undermanaging Politics
- Managers have insufficient knowledge or understanding of the project’s context.
- Managers are either unaware of politics or choose to ignore them because the potential impact of politics is underestimated.
- Lack of experience in managing projects in high-in-politics environments.
- Excessive trust in others’ motives and assuming that everyone has a pure interest in the project’s success.
- Lack of stakeholder analysis and management capabilities.
- A tendency to focus excessively on performance and results (leaving politics unmanaged).
- Limited networking and communication skills leave managers without the means to identify and manage politics.
Reasons for over-reliance on Politics.
- There is a lack of a clear and strong project vision (purpose).
- The lack of strong project sponsorship could set barriers to the interference of petty politics.
- “Playing Politics” to compensate for inefficiency in leadership, technical and professional skills.
- A natural tendency to be politics-oriented at the expense of performance and results.
In politics, no one is ever playing a straight game.
Make sure you can assess the reliability of the information you receive and discern the actual strategies behind what is playing out. There will always be hidden agendas and false friends.
Assess your ability to manage politics and develop the required skillset. Ensure access to reliable “intel”, cultivate and maintain allies you can trust, and have the stomach to deal with negative and petty politics without being side-tracked from other important management activities.
You can apply proven risk management, stakeholder management, and negotiation techniques to identify and assess the source/impact of politics and to address them. Assess the potential gains that stem from supporting politics, the potential losses that stem from opposing politics, and the additional effort required to manage them, then factor these into your cost-benefit analysis of the project (and your project management approach).
If not properly managed, the cost of dealing with opposing and negative politics may even exceed the actual benefits of the project.
You can use supportive politics to counter opposing politics and manage Power in ways that do not fuel opposing or negative politics. Rebalance other Ps wisely to avoid opposing politics and create supporting politics. For example, define the problem-project-product Ps in ways that avoid “stepping on powerful stakeholders’ toes”; define purpose in a way that inspires supporting politics; choose people, develop processes, and plans, and manage perception in a way that facilitates the management of politics.
Keep in mind that there are different currencies/accounts you can tap into to “finance” your dealings with politics: you can spend personal, professional, or organisational capital; you can cash in favours from the past, or you can even get into “political capital debt”. But whichever source of finance you choose, you will need to know how much of each you have in your “project account”, and which is the most effective for the given situation.
Choose the best strategy for the benefit of the project, the people involved, and the organisation. Depending on the situation, you may have to play it safe and choose low-risk/return strategies. Other contexts may allow a higher risk/return approach.
Finally, don’t transfer the cost of dealing with politics outside your project (or into the future) without carefully considering the potential long-term consequences for your project and your organisation.
See the first part of this article: About Project Politics.
Written by: Nicos Kourounakis
See also the original posts: