Politics and Communication

A friend (the wise and articulate proprietress of AK Minority Report) and I were talking last night about the subject of politics and communication in the workplace, and we decided we’d both write blog posts about it and see how our perspectives compare.

This is going to be a little difficult to write, as it’s a standing rule of mine not to write negatively or in inappropriate detail about my workplace or colleagues. Still, I’ll make a stab at it on general principles.

Am I affected by workplace politics? You bet. When I took my most recent IT project management position four years ago, I thought it was going to be managing straightforward implementation of bigger and sexier projects. Instead, it seemed to shift my job away from the nitty-gritty of project management and toward a very political, impact-and-influence oriented role – perhaps 75% of my time is spent on the latter.

When do I encounter politics? When do I not?!?!

  • At project initiation, I work with multiple departments, reconcile wishes against strategic goals and favored vendors to scope a solution and develop a business case with a meaningful return on investment.

  • During project planning & detailed requirements gathering, I fight for the resources necessary to accomplish my project and resolve requirements conflicts.
  • During implementation, I work constantly behind the scenes to continue to have my resources’ full attention, and push the vendor as hard as possible to focus on our build and issues.
  • Testing requires that I track down yet another set of resources to test, as well as push hard on vendors to resolve issues.
  • Deployment requires getting the customer’s approval to go live, managing various change management processes, as well as high visibility internal and external communication.

I try and follow some simple, sensible rules for communication – these apply to basic human relations, not just my field of project management:

  • Communicate frequently, often, and to the right people. Nobody likes surprises.
  • Learn preferred channels of communication for different team members and customers and use them for best problem-solving.
  • If you have a problem, go directly to the source of the problem.
  • If you need to escalate, involve both the source of the problem and his/her manager in the discussions so there is no he said/she said conflicting stories.
  • Practice Covey’s fifth habit – seek first to understand, then to be understood.
  • Deliver praise and positive feedback in public; criticism in private. Always.
  • Follow the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated.

It’s important to me, as project manager, to understand my role. Primarily, my focus is typically supportive/facilitative management; I’m there to handle all the logistics and issues so that the technical team can focus on the project. At times, I do need to shift into a more assertive taskmistress role and require extraordinary focus from my team, and I need to understand when to do this and how to most effectively make it happen. Still, at the end of the day, when the project is successful, it’s my team that has done the work, every line of code, piece of hardware and late night cutover; I’m the most dispensable person there, and I make sure the team knows their efforts are appreciated.

One final note on politics, management and communication: there is a continuum of behavior that ranges from total, obsequious yes-person to completely obstructionist obstacle. I am not a yes-person. My personal sense of integrity requires me to be honest, realistic and forthcoming, while still trying to remain positive and constructive. One of the best pieces of career advice I ever received , from PM consultant Neil Whitten, is to do your job as if you don’t care if you get fired. Do the right thing, work hard, satisfy your own work ethic and be a champion for your project and your people.

4 Responses to “Politics and Communication”

  1. Bill Says:

    What tools do you use to think about who are stake holders, how they like to communicate, and what political sensitivities they have?

  2. Random Michelle Says:

    I hate crap like this, which is why I may well remain underpaid, because I like telling people exactly what I think.

  3. Jeri Says:

    Bill, we use a couple of home grown information management devices – I’ll email you about that.

    Michelle, I don’t mind it at times – in fact it’s great when it more closely resembles leadership than manipulation – but I wasn’t prepared for this job to be such a huge proportion politicking.

  4. Gene Says:

    I am so with you. I can’t stand office politics. Drives me crazier than I already am. And as you know I am pretty much over the edge.