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Organizational Politics in Project Management

Introduction

While business processes keep changing, there is a need for a well-defined process to initiate, plan, execute, and monitor these processes (Schwalbe, 2005). This discipline is normally effected through project management. Stakes Incorporation is a fast growing IT project management consultancy firm established in the year 1998. The firm presently has a work force of fifty-six people deployed at the eight branches whose head office is in London.

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Stakes Incorporation has a chief executive officer at its helm, a project manager, financial manager, operations manager and human resource manager. The staff at each of the branches consists of a project leader, IT support staff, and a number of business information systems analysts. Stakes Incorporation bids for consultancy services from a variety of clients. This firm then offers advice on requirements for successful project management and derives project estimates from clients’ scope statement. They are also able to directly offer their project management services using their in-house project team at a fee, though they are mainly a consultancy firm (Nicholas, 2000).

Stakes Incorporation management is considering running their business on an intranet, because they currently have none. The intranet facility will be able to furnish them with the current financial status, status of development projects at their various branches and the status of the network and server infrastructure for their intranet. The intranet is also likely to offer a shared workspace where Stakes can then bid for larger and more complex projects and work on them as a team with each branch having a portion of the complex project assigned while collaborating with other branches. Stakes has one of the busiest workplaces.

Typically, the workplace is always teaming with diversity in personality, viewpoints, IQs, and many other aspects. This makes the workplace suitable for politics. Workplace politics focuses on employees who use politics to promote their self-interests. They advance this as they compete for leadership and power while building personal physique (Creighton, 1990).

Communication is important in shaping workplace politics. At certain times, people may choose to communicate incorrectly preferring to protect their image, state of power or control (Harris, Andrews & Kacmar, 2007).

Workplace politics also involves people engaging in strategic communications in order to protect their image and enhance their ego. In a broader sense based on some scholarly views, organizations are political coalitions where bargains and decisions are carried out. Organizational politics is known to result in negative psychological and physical effects that can ultimately result to job dissatisfaction. Part of the organization’s political inputs focuses on participation at the workplace. Job autonomy is more inclined towards accomplishing one’s job daily. Workplace politics is either constructive or negative. Positive or constructive politics enables those involved to take note of their needs (Fleming & Spicer, 2008).

When initiating projects, political planning becomes a vital aspect for the success of the project. The project manager must be familiar with the organization’s structure and clearly understand the flow of power and authority within the organization. It may be true that the CEO holds the highest position in the firm but he or she may not unilaterally take decisions concerning the firm, unless a consensus is reached at the board level.

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The board can therefore be a fertile ground for organizational politics. A thorough understanding of the board members and their input gives the project manager a deeper understanding of the organizational politics currently in play. It is therefore, important to realize that a project may be profitable to the organization but may not be successfully implemented because of workplace politics at the board level.

Constructive politics can include a number of ingredients. Workplace politics aims at attainment of selfish recognition and commendation at the expense of other team members (Cropanzano et al., 1997). However, choosing inclusiveness over domination is one of the ways of engaging constructive organizational politics. Workplace politics normally results into factions due to polarization resulting from diverse views and attitudes.

A perceived calm may result when one of the factions completely overwhelms the other. However, the resulting calm may not be a pointer to stability. While looking at the project schedule, it is likely that shorter and accommodative schedules are likely to reduce negative political influences. Managed time frames promote flexibility and encourage inclusiveness. Behaviorist strategies and revenge are opposed to constructive workplace politics.

Being appreciative of the project sponsors’ requirements also is significant. This is what the project manager can focus on in order to gain short and long-term support. Definitely, a project is undertaken to achieve a competitive advantage. When this advantage is translated into financial gains or profitability, the sponsors will have a clearer perspective. With this understanding, the sponsors are able to provide long and short-term support to the project based on its profitability.

Winning support for the project initiation phase becomes extremely important. The project manager should help the sponsors and other stakeholders to establish a strong sense of purpose, grow a shared vision and associated values as well as information and promote cooperation to cover the different boundaries (Sussman et al., 2002).

Perhaps a first step for any project manager would be to establish a good analysis of how things are done within the organization and the attitudes of the main stakeholders and sponsors of the project. It is therefore imperative that for the sponsors to provide long-term support, the project manager should harness the political activities within the organization positively. This involves creating a win–win attitude among the sponsors and other stakeholders.

Adopting a detailed plan and accompanying it with a successful technical project implementation is a prerequisite for any project manager.

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There are a number of considerations to be included within this plan as discussed below.

Understanding ownership of the project

An important understanding to ensure political project success involves building a coalition that should involve all the stakeholders who support the project. Shared vision, values, and purpose can be fostered by the project manager to arrive at a successful project implementation process.

Identifying the organizational politics

The project manager can proceed to identify and positively address the organizational politics currently at play within the organization. This politics will constitute the power structure at the workplace. In this case power describes the ability to change objectives into reality.

Analysis of the political environment within the organization

A closer assessment of the political setup within the organization goes beyond understanding the organizational chart. A careful analysis of the workings in the organization reveals legitimacy placement. A leader who acts with authenticity and integrity normally gains this legitimacy. In legitimizing the power of a leader, influence and support is increasingly gained. A legitimate leader is one who can articulate the organization’s ultimate interests thereby setting the firm’s direction. Perhaps one of the tactics that the project manager can employ to identify the people with power within the organization is through a study of the internal and external social networks these people have built. Therefore, the project manager should be able to identify and receive support from such leaders to ensure the project is successfully implemented.

Stakeholders’ analysis

Once legitimate leaders have been identified, the project manager can move on and carry out an individual analysis of each of the notable stakeholders. One area of potential assessment would be to understand the mutual trust and agreement towards the project. A critical assessment and knowledge of the traits and behavior will allow the project manager to understand each of this people’s reactions and attitudes. Regardless of the type of leaders encountered during the project management process, it remains desirable for the project leader to apply concepts of authenticity and integrity.

Persuade and include

In order to develop an effective political plan during project management, influence and persuasion by the project manager will also play an important role. The project manager can exercise professionalism and show personality thereby gaining referential power. The project manager should be ready to reciprocate, show a liking for other people, and remain consistent. Encouraging the sponsors and stakeholders to independently assess a successfully similar project elsewhere is also part of the plan to win over organizational politics.

Conclusion

Organizational politics determines the project’s success or failure. This must be treated as a risk and covered effectively within the project risk management plan. The risk management plan involves setting up a framework from where the project team can identify typical project risks, which may include workplace politics (Wheelwright & Clark, 1992). The project manager should be able to quickly identify the organizational and political risks so as to craft a plan to address the risks for the success of the project.

References

Creighton, W. J. (1990). Managing technical staff. SIGUCCS ’90 Proceedings of the 18thannual ACM SIGUCCS conference on user services, 1(1), 63-65.

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Cropanzano, R., Howes, J.C., Grandey, A.A., & Toth, P. (1997). The relationship of organizational politics and support to work behaviors, attitudes, and stress. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 18(1), 159-180.

Fleming, P., & Spicer, A. (2008). Beyond power and resistance. New approaches to organizational politics, 21(3), 301-309.

Harris, K.J., Andrews, M.C., & Kacmar, K. (2007). The moderating effects of justice on the relationship between organizational politics and workplace attitudes. Journal of Business and Psychology, 22(2), 135-144.

Nicholas, J.M. (2000). Project management for business and technology: Principles and practice (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.

Schwalbe, K. (2005). Information technology project management (4th ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Course Technology.

Sussman, L., Adams, A., Kuzmits, F., & Raho, L. (2002). Organizational politics: tactics, channels, and hierarchical roles. Journal of Business Ethics, 40(4), 313-331.

Wheelwright, S.C., & Clark, K.B. (1992). Creating project plans to focus development. Harvard Business Review 1992. Web.

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