Corporate politics – tricks of the trade

There are different kinds of tips and tricks on how to win corporate backing for IT projects. It ranges from the staid consultant-speak advice more suited to a management manual to the in-your-face, sometimes not-so-ethical kind that typifies corporate cunning and political manoeuvring often at play in the real world.

Diane Dromgold, RNC Global Project managing director, says that, when it comes to corporate politics there's the 'rational' and ethical argument or the 'emotive' tricks or shortcuts often used to get immediate results.

Usually, Dromgold says, IT managers determine the value of a project to the business, present it and accept that not all projects will be approved; it happens every day in every company.

But there is another way that's used to win backing: "underestimate time and cost and overestimate benefit".

However, Dromgold warns this could lead to problems down the track.

While savvy IT managers try to win the support of other senior managers for the concept before going for formal approval, Dromgold says the other side of the ethics ledger sees IT managers "bribing other managers with superior service" as a way to curry favour and win their support. On the plus side of the ethics plan, she said IT managers can prepare case studies that demonstrate what could go wrong if the project doesn't go ahead, a tactic typical of IT security presentations.

From the dark side, however, is the ploy that causes a run of problems that would illustrate the need for the project.

Dromgold said the usual approach is to look at the overall business and assess where the project really sits in the business priorities.

However, she said the political animal is more inclined to ignore business priorities and badger the person who has approval authority but in a suave and under-handed manner so as not to cause alarm.

There are always tangible and intangible benefits to an IT project, but Dromgold said those with cunning will list only the fear-based outcomes. A balanced argument in presenting the project is to collect figures on how it has worked, or not worked in other companies, but dark-siders would provide only the facts about the impact of not going ahead.

And finally, Dromgold says, get the vendors to 'talk' to senior managers; the dark-siders of course would resort to convincing the vendors to schmooze the managers.

Andrew Henderson, principal at Phoenix IT&T Consulting, believes the way to overcome political obstacles within an organization can be summed up in three words: "It's about clout."

The IT pro must have clout and confidently use it when necessary to win the game of project politics, Henderson said.

"You want to be the person anointed to do whatever it takes to deliver; often this includes the ability to manipulate and to manoeuvre," he said. "It depends on where you sit within an organization and more importantly the culture of that organization; but the main aim is to get the green light to do whatever it takes to succeed."

Henderson said it also depends on the type of project and how quickly it needs to get to market.

He said qualities of a political mover and shaker, someone who makes it happen, include tunnel vision, ability to steamroll and executive sponsorship.

"Look at the emotional drivers of a project, get CXO support and champion it all the way; always do a good business case as project politics can be won or lost upfront," Henderson said.

The most common political obstacle IT faces, he said, is the stigma that IT is an overhead.

"That's why always buddy with a business executive so there is an engaging link for your projects higher up the chain," he added.

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