It is often said that the critical factors behind project success are a better defined scope of work, better estimates, etc. While I agree that they are factors that lead to success, the reality is that projects are continually at the mercy of the politics of any organisation and the culture of the environment in which are they are managed in.
Let’s go back and understand what Politics and Culture mean to the ordinary project manager on the street:
– Project Politics:- Project politics are not always internal but involve at times the client trying to wield power to get more out of the project than the original plan / contract included. Sometimes it can be more functionality for the same cost or the agreed functionality for a lower cost. The reasons vary but these sorts of problems can be bad as the client can start to publicly criticise the project deliverables and question the success / rationale of the project.
– Project Culture:- Project culture is all the values, basic standards, settings, success and orientation patterns for the project stakeholders. The project culture is often understood as a set of the rules with the effect on self-organisation in the project. The project culture is then capable or enabling team dynamics, when all project participants agree about the project process.
The project culture is also a behaviour of the participants in the project and methods as well as communication forms. Done well and it is great, when not managed, it can be one of the major barriers to project success.
In the case of project politics and culture, it is often argued that the best people that we can learn from are the politicians themselves and use these three key techniques:
1. Look at Both Sides of the Conflict:- There are always two sides to every conflict so try and understand both perspectives without losing sight of the fact that the ultimate goal is a successful project. Be a good negotiator and if you can understand the underlying reasons for the conflict you are one step closer to resolving it.
2. Avoid Complicating the Situation:- Don’t listen to long explanations of why someone is behaving in a certain way or why tasks have not been completed. Try to cut through all the political baggage and simplify the problem. Don’t attempt to over-complicate things and sometimes it is your ability to move seamlessly from a problem to a solution that will you allow you manage the politics / culture of any situation.
3. Remind Everyone of the Benefits for Them Personally:- People can often lose sight of the benefits of a project to them personally once they are embroiled in the day to day battle of politics. Be sure to remind everyone why the project is being done and what they will get out of it. When project politics get to a stage, we often we no longer see the potential benefits
4. Remind people that Mastering Project Culture is Not Easy:- People off make the assumption that the cultural barriers can manage themselves. Be an evangelist in reminding people that mastering project cultural barriers takes effort, guile and time. Don’t let up in this and remind people that it is not easy.
Projects are rarely easy and office politics and culture can compound other sorts of problems that arise so they need to be dealt with swiftly and firmly. Project Management is about much more than just scheduling tasks and managing risk and change and a project manager needs to be able to take on a suite responsibilities when aiming for project success.