Projects as Proxy Targets: Part II
by Rick Brenner
Most projects have both supporters and detractors. When a project has been approved and execution begins, some detractors don't give up. Here's Part II of a catalog of tactics detractors use to sow chaos.
Todd Park, United States Chief Technology Officer, appointed by President Obama in March, 2012, after serving as CTO of the Department of Health and Human Services, where he led the initial development of the Web site Healthcare.gov. In October, 2013, when that site first began volume production, its performance was so severely unacceptable that it was widely viewed as the cause of a public relations disaster for the administration. Dr. Park, having left HHS nearly 19 months earlier, was not knowledgable with respect to the current or recent development of the Web site, and could not really be held accountable for the site's problems by anyone familiar with the true meaning of "19 months" in the world of technology. Nevertheless, in early November, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California), Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, demanded that Dr. Park appear at a hearing to testify before the committee regarding the problems of Healthcare.gov. When the administration requested a two-week delay in the appearance, asserting that for the time being, Dr. Park was too busy trying to guide the recovery of Healthcare.gov, the Committee issued a subpoena for Dr. Park's immediate appearance, and Dr. Park did appear.
Based on public accounts, we cannot know for certain anything at all about Chairman Issa's motivations in this investigation. However, this incident does serve exceedingly well as a template for detractors of a project to use review and investigation to distract project leadership and senior management from addressing the issues of a troubled project, thus potentially compelling Reality to comply with the force of the detractor's own jaundiced predictions.
Photo obtained from WhiteHouse.gov.
When a project's detractors have been unable to prevent the organization from committing to the undertaking, they sometimes feel compelled to prove their own objections valid by ensuring the project's failure. Unfortunately, there is much they can do. Here's Part II of our catalog, emphasizing tactics that cause chaos.
- Imposed outsourcing
- Although outsourcing advocates often claim cost advantages, results depend strongly on what is actually outsourced. If the outsourced work cannot be cleanly partitioned from other tasks, and if it demands close collaboration with those other tasks, outsourcing it could actually degrade project performance. By advocating for aggressive outsourcing policy affecting the target project, detractors can effectively hinder progress.
- Reorganization, relocation, and system upgrades
- Reorganizing, relocating, or imposing system upgrades on the segments of the enterprise that most directly provide project resources does introduce chaos. But for special harm, detractors can time these changes for the months immediately preceding major milestones.
- Staffing disruption
- Raiding the project and its task teams for staff for other projects can slow development in two ways. First, it deprives the project of needed capability. Second, the project will likely have to be replanned to account for the lower level of availability of the raided staff. Maximum disruption occurs when the staff reallocation takes place when work is already underway.
- Requirements volatility
- Changing requirements mid-project is another powerful approach. For detractors, customer-oriented requirements are difficult to change, unless the detractor is also a customer. For detractors who aren't customers, internal development procedures and regulatory compliance procedures offer rich possibilities. Imposing changes in these procedures can degrade project performance, if a way can be found to avoid affecting other more favored projects.
- Organizational policy changes
- Changes in organizational policies other than those affecting development procedures can also be disruptive. For example, if a detractor's subordinate is assigned to the project and has been telecommuting two days per week, the detractor can require that the subordinate telecommute at most one day per week. For someone with a long commute, such a restriction can be disruptive.
- Scope creep
- Combining the Combining the target project
with another project "to
achieve savings by reducing
duplication" can degrade
project performancetarget project with another project "to achieve savings by reducing duplication" can degrade project performance, especially if the target is combined with a troubled project.
- Reviews and investigations
- If the tactics above work as intended, and project performance falters, the missed deadlines and budget overruns can provide detractors with justifications for demanding a review of the project. The review in itself becomes another hindrance for the project, because it's a further burden on project leadership, and because it can lead to yet more turmoil if its recommendations include reorganization or changes in leadership. Threats of review can also make recruitment and retention of project staff more difficult.
How sad it is that this is all so easy to do, and so familiar. First in this series Top Next Issue
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. Order Now!
Your comments are welcome
Would you like to see your comments posted here? Send me your comments by email
, or by Web form
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful,
and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend
Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive
of past issues. Subscribe for free.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout,
as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in,
anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Workplace Politics
- There Are No Micromanagers
- If you're a manager who micromanages, you're probably trying as best you can to help your organization meet its responsibilities. Still, you might feel that people are unhappy — that whatever you're doing isn't working. There is another way.
- How to Get Promoted in Place
- Do you think you're overdue for a promotion? Many of us do, judging by the number of Web pages that talk about promotions, getting promoted, or asking for promotions. What you do to get a promotion depends on what you're aiming for.
- Unwelcome Workplace Hugs
- Some of us are uncomfortable about workplace hugs, and some want to be selective. Sometimes hugs are simply inappropriate. Here are some tips for dealing with unwelcome workplace hugs.
- Obstructionist Tactics: Part II
- Teams and groups depend for their success on highly effective cooperation between their members. If even one person is unable or unwilling to cooperate, the team's performance is limited. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics.
- The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Obvious Waste
- Among the most futile and irrelevant actions ever taken in crisis is rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic, which, of course, never actually happened. But in the workplace, we engage in activities just as futile and irrelevant, often outside our awareness. Recognition is the first step to prevention.
See also Workplace Politics and Project Management for more related articles.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact me for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.com
or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout
are available in six ebooks:
Reprinting this article
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline?
Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- Person-to-Person Communication for Project Managers
- When we talk, listen, send or read emails, read or write memos, or when we leave or listen to voice mail messages, we're communicating person-to-person. And whenever we communicate person-to-person, we risk being misunderstood, offending others, feeling hurt, and being confused. There are so many ways for things to go wrong that we could never learn how to fix all the problems. A more effective approach avoids problems altogether, or at least minimizes their occurrence. In this very interactive program you'll learn a model of inter-personal communications that can help you stay out of the ditch. In those moments of intense involvement, when we're most likely to slip, you'll have a new tool to use to keep things constructive. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:
- Download to
your calendarHoliday Inn Mt. Kisco, One Holiday Inn Drive, Mt. Kisco, NY 10549: April 5, Professional Development Day, Westchester Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- Download to
your calendarPortland Country Club, 11 Foreside Road, Falmouth, ME 04105: June 19, Monthly Meeting, Maine Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- Managing Virtual Meetings for Real Results
- Leading or participating in virtual meetings — teleconferences, Web conferences, video conferences, and more — is challenging. Miscommunications, misunderstandings, distractions, politics, and interpersonal conflict all thrive in the typical environment of the virtual team. We'll inventory the challenges virtual meeting leaders and participants face, and provide tools for anticipating and addressing them. The focus of this program is practical — attendees will learn concrete techniques for preventing and dealing with the problems that arise in virtual meetings. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Organizational Politics for People Who Hate Politics
- Have you ever felt powerless to implement an important new idea? Have you ever been "blind-sided" at a meeting? Have you ever lost two good employees because you could find no way to keep them from attacking each other? These are some of the issues of organizational politics. Many of us have become enmeshed in them from time to time, but we've also known some people who seem to be able to engage and prosper. How is that done? We'll inventory the challenges of organizational politics, and provide tools for anticipating and addressing them. The focus of this program is practical — attendees learn concrete techniques for dealing with the problems that arise in workplace politics, while keeping their integrity intact. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Risk Management for Leaders
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in risk management and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at risk management from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:
- New York Marriott Downtown, 85 West Street at Albany Street, New York, NY 10006: May 22, Breakfast Seminar, IT Metrics and Productivity Institute Conference Series. Register now.
- Toronto Marriott Downtown Eaton Centre Hotel, 525 Bay Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5G2L2: June 5, Breakfast Seminar, IT Metrics and Productivity Institute Conference Series.
- Boston Marriott Newton, 2345 Commonwealth Avenue, Newton, MA 02466: June 26, Breakfast Seminar, IT Metrics and Productivity Institute Conference Series.