Projects & Politics: Evil or Just Inevitable?

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at

Sooner or later, all of us must face the inevitable. No matter what we do, where we go or how much we hope otherwise, politics eventually emerge as a force to be reckoned with. Politics are seemingly inevitable, whether it's participating in a volunteer organization, serving on a board of directors, attending a meeting or--more often than not--managing a project. The fact is that politics are ever-present. It's just that some situations stick in our minds as being more politically charged than others.

In their most benign sense, politics are the dynamic forces that define the practice of organizational governance. As a nice, neat analytic theory, that's all well and good. The politics that most of us are more typically referring to are more overt, and more negative. They are the activities of individuals and interest groups who try to gain advantage for themselves at the expense of someone--or, in the case of our projects, something--else.

For many of us, we confront and deal with politics daily. Some of us are the instigators, and many more of us are the recipients. We deal with political interference from sponsors, executives, colleagues, managers and even team members. For certain project managers, I would hazard a cautionary estimate that upwards of 75 to 85 percent of their role and day-to-day activities are defined by politics, rather than dealing with the more …

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