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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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- Some cognitive biases can cause people in collaborations to have inaccurate understandings of what each other is doing. Confirmation bias and self-serving bias are two examples of cognitive biases that can contribute to disjoint awareness in some situations. Available here and by RSS on January 22.
- And on January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
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- 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.