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:
- Managing Pressure: The Unexpected
- When projects falter, we expect demands for status and explanations. What's puzzling is how often this
happens to projects that aren't in trouble. Here's Part II of a catalog of strategies for managing
- How Pet Projects Get Resources: Cleverness
- When pet projects thrive in an organization, they sometimes depend on the clever tactics of those who
nurture them to secure resources despite conflict with organizational priorities. How does this happen?
- The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: II
- Few of us realize where all the costs of meetings really are. Some of the most significant cost sources
are outside the meeting room. Here's Part II of our exploration of meeting costs.
- Exasperation Generators: Irrelevant Detail
- When people relate stories at work, what seems important to one person can feel irrelevant to someone
else. Being subjected to one irrelevant detail after another can be as exasperating as being told repeatedly
to get to the point. How can we find a balance?
- Stone-Throwers at Meetings: II
- A stone-thrower in a meeting is someone who is determined to halt forward progress. Motives vary, from
embarrassing the chair to holding the meeting hostage in exchange for advancing an agenda. What can
chairs do about stone-throwers?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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