jim@millikenproject.com 207-808-8878 Our book "Life is a Project: How are you managing?" is now available!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

It's the Politics, Stupid

          All the best project managers I have known are superb politicians.

          Politicians? Politics? Yuck! We hate politics!
          No, we don’t. We don’t hate politics. We hate sleazy politics, and because of that we avoid politics, and because of that we’ll never be very good at project management.
We don’t understand that ALL human relationships are run by politics, and the best relationships are managed by topflight politicians.
Great marriages, for instance, succeed so well because the couple has mastered, not only continuing true love, but the negotiated matters of effective partnership in managing children, solving finances and taking out the garbage.
          Marriage is a project, the most profoundly important project most of us ever get to star in. It has all the elements – complexity, dependencies, uncertainty, risk, diverse participants, resource management, disruptive variances and limitations on individual freedom of action. Etc.
          The people who find themselves in these grand experiments never understand all that until they’re committed, responsible . . . and stuck. Not in a bad way, you understand, but very openly stuck.

          Our current public politics, narrowly defined, are at first look an example of disgracefully bad project management. The major matters at the national and state levels are neglected, distorted or subverted in favor of what appear to be narrow and destructive ends.
          This public politics business actually is a side issue in the context of our discussion, but two quick observations could be useful.
One is that some mayors and other local leaders are doing yeoman work in finding ways to do the best possible in their grim realities while the more-insulated big players hurl their thunder, mess with vital resources and screw the end user. The hometown heroes are managing their projects, not bewailing their situations.
The other point for thought is that the bitter collisions in the public arenas of Washington and state capitals actually are political projects in process. Like sausage in mid-manufacture, the making of public-policy outcomes is nothing for the faint of heart to witness close up.
Each of the parties in contention has its eye on a goal, and has chosen a set of actions to achieve that goal. Elections are the close of project phases, as are the terms of administrations, but the final outcome of those collected projects won’t be achieved (or known) in our lifetimes.
In short, what goes on in politics as customarily defined does indeed illuminate aspects of our projects, but does not define our management of them.

The truth is that project management requires its practitioners to practice politics to succeed. Gather your information, organize your people, plan your process, prepare for your unpleasant surprises, convince your stakeholders, persuade your end users and go for it.
Project management. It’s the politics. OK, you’re not stupid. You knew that.

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