Politics

The Intersection of Politics and Project Management

My definition of politics encompasses the following: activities aimed at influencing the opinions and behaviors of individuals, groups, and organizations that have the power to make decisions that impact the allocation of resources. This reality extends throughout the private and public sectors, with stakeholders being interconnected and interdependent on one another for mutual gains and losses. Since all resources are inherently limited, then the ends to which they are distributed is of great importance to managers who work within organizations and vie for capital in order to initiate and fund projects. Three points of continuous contention and jockeying among various interests are money, information, votes and/or authority. Politics is a reality of day-to-day life that extends beyond the workplace and into family and civic life as well.

Decisions made by top management regarding human, financial, intellectual, and material assets are not always necessarily rational by the numbers calculations aimed at maximizing the bottom line through sophisticated mathematical projections. Societal values, cultural context, competitive forces, and macro economic trends can impact decision makers and strategic directions of firms. These factors weigh heavily on decisions regarding choosing between potential activities pursued and those that are put on hold or discarded. It may be that the motivational inertia generated from the marketing skills of those who champion and sponsor projects may be the deciding factor when selecting priorities. Other times, customers’ purchasing decisions of products/services or through customer feedback surveys hold sway. Ultimately, the personal views and biases of senior management can make or break attempts at getting projects off the ground.

People sometimes use the term politics to infer an underhanded means of achieving an end. Such as when politicians and marketers manipulate the public with false or deliberately skewed data in order to shift sentiment and accomplish their legislative or sales objectives, regardless of the validity of their claims. Since politics is by its very nature intricately woven into the fabric of policy/business formulation and execution, it behooves those who practice the art and science of its application to maintain high ethical standards. Operating with a robust moral compass is especially important considering that employees down the entire chain of command often take cues regarding proper and improper ways to go about business from supervisors. Likewise, managers should take the time to view potential projects against the backdrop of the entire ecosystem of the firm and make sure that the effects of the implementation of these endeavors are in the best interest of all stakeholders. In this way, optimal results over the long-term can be obtained for all involved.

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