Expert Panel

Common job issues and solutions in Project Management

The Bulls-Eye on your Back


By Ron Montgomery, Management Consultant & Owner, OnPoint, LLC

You may have the title of project manager, but you started your career elsewhere. Perhaps you were trained in a technical discipline such as engineering or software development and are ill-prepared for the political challenges that arise with projects. It is easy to be dismayed when logic and reason seem to fail, political shots are fired and you begin to wonder if there is, indeed, a bulls-eye on your back. The experience may seem new and unfamiliar to us, but it is really quite old. As Machiavelli wrote in “The Prince” in 1532:


“...there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies from all those who profit by the old order and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order…”


If you are managing a project, you are implementing a “new order of things.” Your project will be opposed by those who prefer the current system or would prefer to see your project resources used elsewhere. Your sponsor may profit by the “new order” but may withdraw support if personal risks appear too high. Following are a few suggestions that can help you manage the political side of projects.


Cultivate Effective Sponsorship

The project is not owned by the project manager. It is owned by the sponsor and he must actively support the project. A sponsor must have formal authority in the organization and must be willing to use that authority to help clear the path for your project. Unfortunately, sponsors are not always up to the task. Some do not have sufficient time to devote to the project. Others are inexperienced and may not know what you need from them. Still others are conflict-averse and are comfortable with allowing you to absorb the punches for them. If you are concerned about the effectiveness of your sponsor, schedule a meeting with him to ensure he understands what you will need from him. Also consider the possibility of multiple sponsors.


Develop a Comprehensive Communications Plan

The person that you never considered could well be the person that derails your implementation. You need to develop a communication plan that identifies every person or group that will be impacted by your project. Meet with your sponsor to review and refine the communication plan. Make sure the communication plan provides for talking with your stakeholders, not just talking to them.


Develop and Enforce an Issues Management Process

Issues that arise during the project should be handled at the lowest possible level – normally within the project team. If the issue cannot be handled within the team, there must be a process in place for escalating issues. Be aware that not everyone will follow process. For whatever reason, some people feel compelled to escalate everything they can. All too often, an executive will gladly accept the escalated item and “fix it.” The executives, including your sponsor, must help enforce the issue management process. This can be done by the executive simply asking the person escalating the issue, “Have you worked with (fill in your name here) to solve this problem?” If the answer is “no” the person escalating the issue should be sent back to work it out through the process.


Political problems are inevitable with projects, but these suggestions will help reduce their frequency and severity.


Written by Ron Montgomery,
Project Management Expert for ManagingAmericans.com, Management Consultant & Owner, OnPoint, LLC


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