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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Politics Projects . . . & Vice Versa

     Hey, project manager!
     There is a lot of attention in these weeks of October to the battles for election to public office in the USA, in its national entities and its constituent states. Much political persuasion is presented to us in various channels of information and entertainment.
     And also misinformation, disinformation, distortion and just straight-out lies.
     Those are all work packages.
     The good, the valuable and important, the interesting, the useful . . . and the damaging and disgusting. They are organized into projects with much the same characteristics as those you’re leading.
     Maybe seeking office not what you’re doing. Instead, you’re in charge of inventing software solutions, or radically reorganizing someone’s business model, or dealing with an unprecedented construction situation, or building a revolutionary kind of boat.
     The elect-me project has the same set of stakeholders yours has.
     The candidate for public office typically is the project sponsor and/or the authority who appoints and directs the project manager, makes major strategic decisions and evaluates the process.

     The project manager in electioneering is the campaign manager, and that person’s competence in project management skills frequently is a life-or-death determinant for the candidate’s hopes.
     Those of us who are project management junkies can be as fascinated as the politics addicts with the current gush of campaign activity. We are looking at many of the same features, actions and reactions (programs, speeches/rallies/meet-and-greets, crowds and commentary).
     But our microscopes and telescopes have entirely different lenses.
     The political types are looking at the shifting currents of public performance and citizen reaction with a focus on the candidate. We, on the other hand, are examining the accumulating evidence of management performance. Our eyes are on the top operatives of the campaign process.
     We aren’t privy to the private councils and inner workings, but a watchful student of the goings-on can take advantage of the periodic public words and actions of campaign managers to see how well they’re leading their high-pressure, high-stakes projects.

     What should we be looking for? Here’s a handy list that was proven out in a thorough run with project managers in a broad array of professions. It reveals the regular workstyle characteristics of outstanding practitioners of our art/craft:

            Attitude and Belief
            Focus and Prioritization
            Approach (especially in planning and executing)
            Relationships and Conflict
            Alignment (with senior management, team, organization goals, etc.)
            Issue Management

     Those are the eight overlapping categories of excellence in job performance identified in a study that started with 3,000 project managers, narrowed to 860, then ran the survivors through a multiple set of analytics – including information from 4,398 stakeholders in the subjects’ situations.
     The top 18 project managers – roughly 2 percent of the 860 – were identified through a complex and thorough process of surveys, interviews and analysis.
     The result was published in a slim, fascinating volume entitled Alpha Project Managers: What the top 2% Know that Everyone Else Does Not.  Andy Crowe, a prominent project manager, trainer and author, led the study and wrote the book.

     The prominence of “political” strengths on Crowe’s list is no coincidence, just as the application of project management skills is so fundamental for political campaign managers.
     Politics is the art and science of managing human interactions in coordinating actions to achieve mutually valuable outcomes. Sounds like project management to me.
     Over all these years, I have come to believe that the project manager is most effective when he-she builds productive relationships – among disparate, often adversarial parties – while constructing and executing effective action plans.
     In fact, the human mutuality in projects is so deeply intertwined with the necessary activities that the each of the two could not exist without the other.
     And that sounds like politics to me.
     Politics is a program that strings multiple projects into programs. It needs competent organization to harness its energy.
     Projects are enterprises that demand political skills. They move faster and higher with a wise injection of urgency.

     Both professions can benefit a lot from taking a good look at each other.

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