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coding for the proletariat since 1977

Project Politics

Perhaps the most annoying of aspects of any IT project is politics. Every company, every agency, every engagement has politics. In the best of cases the political aspect of a project is well managed, understood, and used to the greater advantage of all involved. This case has never existed anywhere in the known world.

The worst case results in shouting, terminations, and bitter enmity that survives long after the reasons for the issue have been forgotten. I personally have participated in more than one of these projects.

In the middle lies the typical project scenario. Political pressure of one sort or another skews the objective or success factors enough to make project life uncomfortable, but ultimately a product is created and everyone moves on to other assignments. Politics, as I am using it here, can be likened to non-functional specifications. Just as every project has requirements that drive out specifications, and by logical progression non-functional specifications; every project has people who bring humanness to a project, and by logical extension, politics.

None of us are educated or prepared to deal with human nature or emotions by design. Any understanding an individual possesses about human nature, emotions, group psychology, et cetera, has been gained through often painful personal experience. And very few of us have spent any serious effort figuring out the ins and outs of our personal emotional landscape. We all react to external stimuli; few of us really understand why. Put four or six or twelve people in a room and ask them to perform as a unified team and you likely get an emotional pressure-cooker, primed to blowup.

Emotions that are unexpressed by individuals, or expressed inappropriately are the ignition source for the political fire. Once burning, these issues become the gas that feeds fire, and the wind that fans it ever higher. Stakeholders and management external to the team are put into the position of reacting to interpersonal issues. The people external to the project have no better tools for dealing with these issues than the team members; so the controls placed on the team become burdensome. They only add to the pressure, they don’t relieve it. Since no one is able to communicate fully and openly, no one is getting their needs met.

Stakeholders aren’t getting the automation desired, team members aren’t getting the professional satisfaction they crave, management is frustrated and stymied by both other groups. In the end political expediency is used as a trump card to force a solution on everyone. Management agrees to outrageous deadlines or success criteria. Team members subvert their personal lives and goals to please management. Stakeholders settle for something not quiet matching what was asked for – all because the modern western corporate landscape chooses to ignore the reality that people are just that — people.

Until we can stop trying to do everything politically and start approaching projects from a humanist stance we will continue to have spectacular failures, bitter memories, and emotionally wounded people. The cycle will repeat itself endless until we, the people in the midst of it, change it.

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Filed under: Miscellaneous

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