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.
- 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 goalnegligence, 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.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- What You See Isn't Always What You Get
- We all engage in interpreting the behavior of others, usually without thinking much about it. Whenever
you notice yourself having a strong reaction to someone's behavior, consider the possibility that your
interpretation has outrun what you actually know.
- The Politics of the Critical Path: II
- The Critical Path of a project is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest completion
date of the effort. We don't usually consider tasks that are already complete, but they, too, can experience
the unique politics of the critical path.
- On Snitching at Work: I
- Some people have difficulty determining the propriety of reporting violations to authorities at work.
Proper or not, reporting violations can be simultaneously both risky and necessary.
- The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: II
- Anecdotes are powerful tools of persuasion, but with that power comes a risk that we might become persuaded
of false positions. Here is Part II of a set of examples illustrating some hazards of anecdotes.
- Narcissistic Behavior at Work: IV
- Narcissistic behavior at work is more damaging than rudeness or egotism. It leads to faulty decisions
that compromise organizational missions. In this part of the series we examine the effects of constant
demands for attention and admiration.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming September 25: Planning Disappointments
- When we plan projects, we make estimates of total costs and expected delivery dates. Often these estimates are so wrong — in the wrong direction — that we might as well be planning disappointments. Why is this? Available here and by RSS on September 25.
- And on October 2: Start Anywhere
- Group problem-solving sessions sometimes focus on where to begin, even when what we know about the problem is insufficient for making such decisions. In some cases, preliminary exploration of almost any aspect of the problem can be more helpful than debating what to explore. Available here and by RSS on October 2.
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- The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
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. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program.
Here's a date for this program:
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio
44017: November 7,
Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute.
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio 44017: November 7, Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio 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.