On April 11, 1951, in the midst of the Korean War, U.S. President Harry Truman relieved Gen. Douglas MacArthur, replacing him as "Supreme Commander, Allied Powers; Commander-in-Chief, United Nations Command; Commander-in-Chief, Far East; and Commanding General, U.S. Army, Far East." This historic act followed months of conflict between the General and the President, in which MacArthur repeatedly and publicly criticized Truman's policies. Worse, he had repeatedly and publicly offered his own analyses and alternative policies for comparison with Truman's. Some of his statements might even have influenced the North Koreans and the Chinese in formulating their own policies and strategies.
In effect, Gen. MacArthur's actions led to the wartime analog of the scope creep that is so familiar to project managers. But unlike many scope creep incidents, this scope creep originated not at the top, but somewhere below — at "ground level."
And something similar can happen in projects, when scope creep results from the behavior of team members who aren't high-level decision makers. Here are three examples.
- Technology aficionados
- Technology aficionados usually have technical roles and purely technical interests. They're more interested in the technical issues than they are in balancing the technical and the business agendas. When they encounter or generate an idea that is outside the scope of the effort, they urge it forward if they feel it's "the right thing." They act publicly, using meetings, email, or other communication channels to make their ideas part of the overall task. When they act without first consulting those responsible for managing organizational resources, they create "fires" that managers must extinguish.
- Tactically oriented sales representatives
- Tactically Some people act publicly, using
meetings, email, or other
to make their ideas part
of the overall taskoriented sales reps focus on immediate sales opportunities to the detriment of a more strategic perspective. In some cases, they promise customers features or capabilities that the organization must then deliver, even if they weren't originally in scope.
- Embedded consultants
- Technology consultants are sometimes embedded in the organization on a short-term basis. They often have technology-specific knowledge and perspective, and some bear certifications in proprietary technologies. Sometimes, they acquire a bias in favor of their own areas of expertise. They lose objectivity. When that happens, their advice can conflict with the larger goals of the organization. That is, even though we invite technology gurus into our organizations for specific purposes, they can exert influence on the people they work with relative to their specializations, and beyond their charters. However innocent their motives might be, their advice can nevertheless lead to scope creep.
Were it not for the effects of organizational politics, a combination of training, orientation, and performance management could prevent or contain the effects of these mechanisms. But in organizations, as in war, once the unwelcome ideas float upward from ground level, politics can limit the ability of the organization to contain them. Top Next Issue
For more about scope creep, see "The Perils of Political Praise," Point Lookout for May 19, 2010; "More Indicators of Scopemonging," Point Lookout for August 29, 2007; "Scopemonging: When Scope Creep Is Intentional," Point Lookout for August 22, 2007; "Some Causes of Scope Creep," Point Lookout for September 4, 2002; "The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Strategy," Point Lookout for June 29, 2011; and "The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Task Duration," Point Lookout for June 22, 2011.
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Currying Favor
- The behavior of the office kiss-up drives many people bats. It's more than annoying, though —
it does real harm to the organization. What is the behavior?
- Ethical Influence: I
- Influencing others can be difficult. Even more difficult is defining a set of approaches to influencing
that almost all of us consider ethical. Here's a framework that makes a good starting point.
- Managing Risk Revision
- Prudent risk management begins by accepting the possibility that unpleasant events might actually happen.
But when organizations try to achieve goals that are a bit out of reach, they're often tempted to stretch
resources by revising or denying risks. Here's a tactic for managing risk revision.
- The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Strategy
- Much of what we call work is about as effective and relevant as rearranging the deck chairs
of the Titanic. We continue our exploration of futile and irrelevant work, this time emphasizing
behaviors related to strategy.
- The Artful Shirker
- Most people who shirk work are fairly obvious about it, but some are so artful that the people around
them don't realize what's happening. Here are a few of the more sophisticated shirking techniques.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 23: Look Where You Aren't Looking
- Being blindsided by an adverse event could indicate the event's sudden, unexpected development. It can also indicate a failure to anticipate what could have been reasonably anticipated. How can we improve our ability to prepare for adverse events? Available here and by RSS on August 23.
- And on August 30: They Just Don't Understand
- When we cannot resolve an issue in open debate, we sometimes try to explain the obstinacy of others. The explanations we favor can tell us more about ourselves than they do about others. Available here and by RSS on August 30.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenaLHGiPJmWugCoVpaner@ChaceRJkxlHnLNAtBMXWoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
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- The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald
Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen
had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished.
As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business
analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read
more about this program. Here are some dates for this program:
- The Westin Virginia Beach Town Center, 4535 Commerce Street,
Virginia Beach, VA 23462: September 13,
Monthly Meeting, Hampton Roads Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- CTCPA, 716 Brook Street,
Rocky Hill, CT 06067: September 20,
Full-day Workshop, Southern New England Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- The Westin Virginia Beach Town Center, 4535 Commerce Street, Virginia Beach, VA 23462: September 13, Monthly Meeting, Hampton Roads Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
- Many people experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes
frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all
speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises
is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage,
and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located
teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and
supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance.
Read more about this program. Here's a date for this
- Baci Grill, 134 Berlin
Road, Berlin, CT 06416: September 19,
Monthly Meeting, Southern New England Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- Baci Grill, 134 Berlin Road, Berlin, CT 06416: September 19, Monthly Meeting, Southern New England Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.