Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 13, Issue 51;   December 18, 2013: Projects as Proxy Targets: I

Projects as Proxy Targets: I

by

Some projects have detractors so determined to prevent project success that there's very little they won't do to create conditions for failure. Here's Part I of a catalog of tactics they use.
A Strangler Fig in Australia

A Strangler Fig (species Ficus watkinsiana) on Syzygium hemilampra, in Iluka, Australia. Strangler figs begin life, typically, by germinating in the bark of other trees. They send roots downward, and branches upward, enfolding their hosts. Gradually increasing in mass, they eventually strangle their hosts. This growth pattern is advantageous in dense tropical forests, where building a tree column from ground level is difficult because of the shade caused by existing foliage.

Detractors of large projects in organizations can use strategies similar to that of the Strangler Figs. Using any means at their disposal, they work to limit the operations of the project they've targeted. No one element of their overall attack is important, but the number and variety of their attacks can be too much for the advocates of the large project to bear.

Photo by Peter Woodard, courtesy Wikipedia.

Most major projects have both advocates and detractors. Even after organizations decide to fund enterprise-scale projects, even after staffing begins, and even during early execution, detractors can remain. In most cases though, voicing objections after the funding decision is in place entails considerable political risk. That's why detractors typically begin to limit their objections to confidential conversations with trusted allies. They might continue to oppose the project, and even try to subvert it, but always discretely, and usually under the cover of deniability.

In some rare cases, a major project's detractors might continue to operate openly even after the organization is committed to the project. They voice their skepticism, repeatedly predicting failure. They do so at extreme political risk, because the people who advocated for and approved funding for the project typically experience such opposition as attacks not only on the project, but also upon their own position and power in the organization. They know that if the project fails, they face embarrassment, possible demotion, termination, or other career-ending consequences.

Open opposition to projects underway often becomes protracted political conflict between advocates and detractors — a conflict in which the project becomes a proxy target.

Detractors know that unless they prevail, the advocates can use the project's success to consolidate their own power and influence, while they curtail the future influence of the detractors. When detractors commit to opposing the project openly, they do so with the understanding that project failure is the only outcome consistent with their own long-term well being within the organization. They must then act to ensure project failure. Here are some of the tactics available to project detractors.

Delay
At every phase of project development from initial proposal to late stage execution, delay can help detractors achieve their goal. They can raise issues to slow decisions and approvals, release shared resources later than expected, and if they supply deliverables to the project, they can supply them late.
Verbal assaults on leadership
Charges of At every phase of project development
from initial proposal to late
stage execution, delay can help
detractors achieve their goal
negligence, incompetence, ethical transgressions, and the like can distract project leaders and burden them with the need to respond. Such allegations also affect the project's ability to attract and retain highly capable personnel.
Budget constriction
Constraining the project's budget obviously degrades its ability to deliver against an aggressive schedule. But even more deviously, detractors can work to constrict the project's budget after the budget commitment for a given period is made and spending has begun. This causes even more delay because of the chaos introduced by replanning.
Vendor restrictions
By imposing restrictions on which vendors can supply material, staff, or services, detractors can limit the project's access to reliable outside vendors. Even more devious: change the restriction policy at a critical juncture, forcing the project to switch vendors.

We'll continue this catalog next time, emphasizing tactics for creating project chaos.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Projects as Proxy Targets: II  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenGeLxJeJhzmkbTbdFner@ChacjJfgYMPRrPGXtONIoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

A view of the damage to the Apollo 13 Service ModuleThe Attributes of Political Opportunity: The Finer Points
Opportunities come along even in tough times. But in tough times like these, it's especially important to sniff out true opportunities and avoid high-risk adventures. Here are some of the finer points to assist you in your detective work.
Portrait of Benjamin Lincoln (1733-1810), Major General of the Continental Army during the American Revo|-|lu|-|tionary WarThe 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.
Brian Urquhart of the Office of the UN Under-Secretaries Without Porfolios. (1 January 1956)Staying in Abilene
A "Trip to Abilene," identified by Jerry Harvey, is a group decision to undertake an effort that no group members believe in. Extending the concept slightly, "Staying in Abilene" happens when groups fail even to consider changing something that everyone would agree needs changing.
Dry Falls, in Grand County, Washington StateImpasses in Group Decision-Making: IV
Some impasses that develop in group decision-making relate to the substance of the discussion. Some are not substantive, but still present serious obstacles. What can we do about nonsubstantive impasses?
The Costanza MatrixThe Costanza Matrix
The Seinfeld character "George Costanza" is famous for having said, "It's not a lie if you believe it." What if you don't believe it and it's true? Some musings.

See also Workplace Politics and Project Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

C. Northcote Parkinson in 1961Coming September 27: Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are three examples of this pattern. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
A typical standup meetingAnd on October 4: Meeting Troubles: Culture
Sometimes meetings are less effective than they might be because of cultural factors that are outside our awareness. Here are some examples. Available here and by RSS on October 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenLQMVoKljFsypNfGXner@ChacbOZEUDcvkExcmxhHoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…

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.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.