7.0 Managing Projects (Part 4) – Politics and Hierarchy

Project managers should take into account the context in which their projects will take place. In other words, they should examine how choices inside and regarding the project are made. A project may be situated in one of two worlds: the sales representative’s world or the politician’s world.

The sales representative’s environment centers around profit maximization, and steadiness is critical. All actions are predicated on mutual trust and adhere to the slogan, ‘a deal is a deal.’ Relationships between sales representatives are critical, as is their genuine behavior. Decentralization of power occurs.

The majority is critical in the realm of the politician for getting things done.

Centralizations of Project Teams #

Thus, loyalty to the group is critical, even if a politician’s viewpoint varies on a number of issues from the organization’s. Because the majority is seldom composed of a single party, temporary alliances, sometimes with adversaries or even foes, are often required. Decisions are made as a result of a certain worldview. References to certain facts are essential in the world of the politician to preserve order; the goal justifies the means. Centralization of power.

The majority of individuals instinctively prefer the first of these two universes; the second conjures up many negative connotations. ‘We don’t do politics here,’ is a commonly heard statement in organizations, even when it is false. While the world of the sales representative is more appealing to the majority of people, it does have a significant drawback. Profit maximization decision-making is effective only when clear cash flows are accessible.

Decisions involving difficulties or concerns such as increased investment in education, the environment, health care, roads, research, defense, or nuclear energy cannot be stated in an unambiguous profit-loss balance. The political model is the only model that can be used to make such choices. As a result, it is essential to engage in political maneuvering.

Social and subsidized organizations, by definition, operate within the political sphere. Finance for these organizations and their initiatives is entirely or mostly contingent on political will to support them. The success of social organizations is not readily quantifiable in financial terms.

This is equally true of the outcomes of social organization-led initiatives.

Short Case Example #

A young engineer was once tasked with the task of implementing an ambitious wind-energy project in a rural municipality. Residents of the municipality may save for a number of windmills via an innovative savings scheme, with the aim of producing 30% of the town’s energy requirements with their own windmills.

This would need the installation of 10 wind turbines. The concept started with one of the municipal council members.

The townsfolk expressed much less enthusiasm for the savings scheme than had been anticipated. They scraped together enough money to buy one-half of a windmill. To avoid the concept becoming a total failure, the town agreed to augment the funding to allow for the installation of at least one windmill.

The engineer said in the initial draft of the final report that the outcome was very unsatisfactory. However, such a report would result in the council member losing face, which is why he advocated a reformulation. Final version of the paragraph read as follows: ‘The initiative is a tremendous success; the municipality has shown its commitment to the environment and made a significant – though insignificant – contribution to the battle against climate change.’ The young engineer was originally ignorant of the project’s political context. To prevent future council member initiatives from getting off the ground, he was compelled to engage in (together with) politics.

Managing Expectations and Internal Forces #

It is more difficult to complete a project in a political setting than it is to complete one in the sales representative’s environment. Decisions about a project are made in the context of the political game, not on the basis of what is most effective for the project. The impetus for initiating a project is often political, and therefore establishes the force fields with which the project team must contend.

A reorganization necessitated the consolidation and cooperation of many organizations. This reorganization was required from above and included, among other things, the consolidation of many small-town local affiliates into a regional headquarters. This meant that workers would have to commute much farther to work. The nature of the job also altered; significantly fewer opportunities for highly educated employees were available after the reorganization.

A part of the workforce was forced to seek employment outside the organization or in jobs that were much less appealing on a substantive level. As a result, there was significant opposition to the reorganization, despite the fact that it would entail substantial savings.

If successful, it will result in an improvement in customer service. Finally, employees were to carry out the reorganization under the direction of a project leader. Initially, the project’s leader had difficulties getting the project started. The team members tasked with carrying out the tasks continually found reasons not to do their duties. There was usually some kind of issue or setback, and much debate ensued.

Team Moral #

Typically, the debates moved to whether the initiative itself was a good concept. The project leader would then defend the initiative, claiming that it would result in significant improvements for consumers, but they were unable to create excitement for it. When the project leader saw that a sizable portion of the workforce did not (completely) support the initiative, they chose to prioritize decreasing opposition to the project.

They did this by visiting each affiliate. And also engaged in more casual conversations with managers and workers, often at the coffee machine. They were able to restart the project when it failed by improving his connection with a number of official and informal power holders. The project remained challenging, but the political strategy proved much more effective than the logical one they had originally attempted.

A guide on political maneuvering would go beyond the scope of this work. In summary, the political game often occurs at the level of interpersonal interactions and power dynamics. In a commercial setting, the product takes precedence. Project directors should understand that initiatives involving social organizations will always include some aspect of politics. To ensure the success of their initiatives, project leaders in this scenario would be smart not to disengage from the political game. Rather than that, they should strive to play it well while still giving meaningful direction for their initiatives.