3.7. Breaking Up Political Logjams
Corporate politics and power determine which projects get funded, which get priority, which get support, which get the best people, etcetera. IT projects are often "politically challenged" for two primary reasons. The first is that IT is seen as a cost center. From a political standpoint, few people are going to stand up and staunchly defend something that is seen as doing little more than costing a bundle of money. We discussed this to some extent in Chapter 2 when we looked at aligning IT strategy with corporate strategy. IT projects also run into political problems when IT is not seen as important (or strategic) to the business. Again, if you take the steps delineated in Chapter 2, IT will be viewed as a more integral and necessary (not necessary evil) part of the company. If the IT projects are seen as strategic, those with political capital are more likely to defend or support them. In this section, we're going to discuss strategies you can use to break up some of the political logjams that might be hindering your IT projects. These methods might not solve every political problem you encounter, but they'll give you a great set of tools to use as a starting point.
3.7.1. High-Level Sponsorship
In Chapter 1, you learned about the top eight reasons projects tend to succeed or fail. Executive sponsorship was listed as the most important factor for project success. So it should be no surprise that having high-level support in the organization, both for yourself and for your projects, is an important element in overcoming political obstacles. Executives have organizational, information, and resource power. They can work on your behalf to ensure projects get the resources they need when they need them. Executive support can also help you overcome politics lower in the organization. It's unlikely that your boss (or your boss's peer) is going to try to block something that a senior executive supports.
One very important note about executive support is thisalways attempt to go through your manager or direct supervisor. Going around or above your boss's head is seen as a power play (and in truth, it almost always is a power play) and it almost always results in negative consequences. There may be times when it's appropriate to go directly to senior management. For example, your boss might tell you that it would be a good idea for you to pitch the project to his or her boss directly since you understand the details of the project. These types of situations depend a lot on how your company is run and what the political climate is. If there is a lot of trust and cooperation, it's possible you can go directly to a senior executive without your boss's explicit permission. In other organizations, that's what's termed a CLMa career-limiting move. You'll need to figure out how to get high-level support for your project one way or another. Using the information you gleaned from Chapter 2, you should have a more versatile set of tools to use now.
3.7.2. Making The Business Case
Another very practical and effective method of blowing through political logjams that are impacting your IT projects is to do an excellent job making the business case for your project. While politics may still impact your project, it's much more difficult to argue when the facts and figures are clearly laid out. Going back to Chapter 2 material, you learned that one effective way to influence people is with reason. In this case, the business case you make for your IT project will appeal to reason. If you can also find a way to appeal to values and emotion, you'll make a stronger case. Create a strong business case, be prepared to present it in a way that generates interest and maybe even excitement.
3.7.3. Calculated and Demonstrated ROI (Reduced TCO)
Calculating and demonstrating a return on investment (ROI) or a reduced total cost of ownership (TCO) can also help a project move through political waters. This is closely related to making the business case, but this focuses specifically on the financial aspect. If finances are not your strong suit, try to get one of your company's Finance people to assist you in these calculations. This will be critical for several reasons. First, if you can show that your IT project not only has a strong business case (makes sense, supports or extends the company's strategies, etcetera), but also has good financials (ROI, TCO), you're much more likely to reduce political opposition. If the IT project has a weak ROI (or no ROI), you might need to re-evaluate it. If it supports or extends the company's mission, it might have a different type of ROI. For instance, it might not save the company money or pay for itself in x number of years unless you look at it from a more corporate perspective. Does this project improve efficiency that could save the company money over time? Does this project help generate additional revenue? Does this project help keep your company at the forefront of the market? Even if these benefits are difficult to calculate or are intangible, you can still delineate them. Helping executives understand the business case and the financial elements is one of the best ways to prevent negative political activity. It's not a cure-allcertainly there are some companies that don't let facts get in the way of decision-making, but most companies are fairly rational when it comes to spending money. Use that to your benefit. Of course, you'll still need to use all your political savvy (developed, of course, from reading this chapter) to make sure your projects stay on the fast track to success.