Manage Political Problems as Issues

The larger your project gets, the more you will find that the issues you encounter are more and more political in nature. The issues have to do with the use of resources, project direction, project deliverables, how the project should be run, how the project impacts people, etc. The resolution of these issues requires you to gain consensus among people that have differences of opinion. In other words, the resolution requires you to recognize and work in office politics.

Generally speaking, politics is all about interacting with people and influencing them to get things done. This can be a good thing, a bad thing, or a neutral thing, depending on the tactics people use. The behavior of people can make office politics good or bad. Let’s consider some examples of how utilizing political skills might be good, but can also be bad.

· You are able to move your ideas forward in the organization and get people to act on them (good), by currying favor, suppressing other opposing ideas and taking credit for the ideas of your staff (bad).

· You have an ability to reach consensus on complex matters with a number of different stakeholders (good), by working behind the scenes with people in power, making deals and destroying people who don’t get on board (bad).

· You receive funding for projects that are important to you and to your organization (good), by misrepresenting the costs and benefits, and by going around the existing funding processes (bad).

· You develop a reputation as someone who can get things done (good), by using legitimate and illegitimate tactics and by walking over people that get in your way (bad).

The point of the examples is to show that influencing people and getting things done in a company bureaucracy is a good thing and the general term of “office politics” can have good connotations or bad. However, the typical use of the term is used to describe the shady methods that are used to get things done in the company bureaucracy.

It is not uncommon for a project team to be impacted by office politics. This can occur when there is a difference of opinion on the project deliverables, requirements, scope change requests, risk perceptions, etc. Are these differences of opinion caused by office politics, or just a legitimate and valid difference of opinion between people who both think that they are representing the best interest of the company?

Dealing with office politics is not a standard project management process. However, once the politics start to impact the project adversely, the situation should be identified as an issue, since the resolution is outside the control of the project team. You can’t utilize a checklist to resolve political issues. Political problems are people-related and situational. What works for one person in one situation may not work for another person in the same situation because people, and their reactions, are different. Identifying the problem as an issue will bring visibility to the situation and hopefully get the proper people involved in the resolution.

Generally, project managers need to become good at identifying and trying to resolve political issues. There are three areas to work on.

· Try to recognize situations and events where politics are most likely to be involved. This could include decision points, competition for budget and resources, and setting project direction and priorities.

· In general, deal with people openly and honestly. When you provide an opinion or recommendation, express the pros and cons to provide a balanced view to other parties. Make sure you distinguish the facts from your opinions so the other parties know the difference. You should always try to communicate proactively with all stakeholders.

· If you feel uncomfortable with what you are asked to do, get your sponsor or your functional manager involved. They tend to have more political savvy and positional authority, and they should be able to provide advice and cover for you.

If you feel good about what you are doing, how you are influencing and how you are getting things done, then you are probably handling office politics the right way. If you feel guilty about how you are treating people and if you have second thoughts about the methods you are using to get things done, you are probably practicing the dark side of office politics.

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