First of all Politics is Not a Bad Word. Live with it. In fact, it is evil only when it is played in a dirty way and when it does not serve the project concerned nor add up to the final organizational goal. Otherwise, it is an integral part of any project environment.
As Aristotle put it once: “Man is a political being”
I was never at it as my belief was – technocrats with project management capabilities will always prevail over the bureaucrats. Also, naively, I was always thinking it is unnecessary and it is done by weak minded and evil people. However, it is not always played in an evil way, though there are chances that you might end up in an organization like that, which is of course the worst case scenario.
Nevertheless, politics exists in any organization and you have to deal with it. So, let us take a hands-on approach to address it in a positive way.
1. Recognize it
It is normally easy. In a meeting, discussion etc. you can easily find out whose say is final. He is your person. Sometimes people with tremendous amount of knowledge also hold power, and they may or may not have the final say. But, they are also your friends.
2. Ask for authority (Managing up)
You have been asked to prime a number of features. Fine, you will do it.
However, here is the time to ask. Managers who are normally vague and sweet tongued without any commitment are very difficult to deal with. But, you have to spell your need succinctly. Ask – the resources you need, monthly or weekly meeting that you need to have, the expectations from your manager, etc. It is also called “managing up”.
If the manager is not responsive, have your antenna up and alarm bell off. You are on your own.
3. Find the people who influence “Your Man”
It is not only important that you know your man – with all the baggage of opinion, prejudices, biases he carries, but also other people who influence your man.
They are actually the indirect stakeholders in your project. And we all know how important stakeholders are in any project.
4. Remember no one is omnipotent
Even the seemingly most powerful one will have someone to report to and have his power balanced. Leaving aside the founders, like you, they are also employees. You need to have the respect for authority, but clearly realize that they are not omnipotent.
5. Roundabout approach
If you think that you can not directly convince a person, try to convince the people, who matters to your man.
This way you can impress the friends of “your man”. The person you want to get help support from, may not listen to you; but it will be difficult for him/her to decline his/her friend’s request.
Also, after convincing his/her friend, you can also very well come back to him/her and say that – “I have talked to X and Y and they all like my approach/idea. What do you think?” This time it will be difficult for him/her to ignore you.
6. In any negotiation, remember that it is a always a two-way street
In history or day to day life negotiation has never become successful without a person (who is negotiating) holding something attractive. While negotiating, you need to have something, which the other person finds valuable. Otherwise, it will rarely work.
If you are forced, then clearly inform the consequences. Like:
“It has to be done with 2 people”. Fine, it will be done. But, “it will be 7 person weeks in place of 4.”
“We do not have more budgets to allocate”. Fine, it will be done. But “it will not have X, Y, Z features”.
7. Never ever take anything important verbally
In this age, verbal communication is useless. Ask for a written communication, always. If (s)he is right and ethical, there will not be any problem. In fact, they will prefer it. Otherwise, highly political people never prefer written communication.
If you need an important commitment, have it written. If the other person is not doing it, do it yourself and ask for confirmation.
Satya Narayan Dash is the Principal Consultant and Founder of Teleox® Consulting, Bangalore, India. Prior to that, he was Project Leader with Wipro® Technologies and a Project Leader with AdventNet®, Inc. He has rich experience of 8+ years in product development, and architecture in Java® and J2EE® based Telecom solutions. As a certified Project Management Professional (PMP®) from Project Management Institute (PMI®) and MS Project 2007®, he has trained hundreds of project managers and consultants. He holds a Bachelor Degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from National Institute of Technology, Jalandhar, India. He can be contacted at email: firstname.lastname@example.org