Find the Hilary Clinton on your IT project and co-opt her

There really isn’t much of an equivalent within enterprise IT to what Barack Obama has done in choosing Hilary Clinton as his Secretary of State. Even when they’re at each other’s throats, IT managers and other department heads aren’t often gunning for the same job. No one really ever “wins” these battles, and we aren’t usually in a position to offer the “losers” a plum job after it’s all over.

On the other hand, if you define politics as the attempt to control your environment, there is nothing more political than IT project management. And there may be occasions to pull an Obama of your own.

What IT managers and other business unit leaders do campaign for is buy-in, whether it’s the go-ahead to purchase new products and services, change or introduce new processes, or both. And depending on how important it is to their other work-related objectives, they’ll lobby pretty hard for that vote. True, few people in on either the technology or business side of the house would engage in the kind of negative war-of-words that Clinton and Obama did. But it isn’t hard, either through one-on-one conversations, after-meeting e-mails and office gossip to discredit a coworker’s initiative or to undermine what they’re trying to do. Once the scrapping is over, however, executives often find themselves in the same position as Barack Obama – you have to get on with the job, and you need people who can do that job.

Clinton’s appointment has been greeted in some quarters as a cynical move that betrays Obama’s message of fresh thinking and leaving behind Washington baggage. It’s not that much different than Liberal leader Stephane Dion’s immediate decision to give high-profile posts to the men who wanted his job, such as Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff. This can certainly backfire, as Dion no doubt realizes, and Clinton may not meet expectations either, but Obama surely realizes that the best candidates for his cabinet are those who were passionate enough to fight against him for the title. The same is true in many companies. It’s the apathetic, ambivalent users you need to worry about. The ones who critique, hector and counter-argue? Those are your future allies.

Seasoned IT managers know that the project doesn’t end with the implementation or deployment. It’s the ongoing maintenance, support and results that matter, and for that you need to get a different kid of buy-in. This doesn’t mean burying differences of opinion but recognizing them and finding common ground. For Obama and Clinton, that common ground is getting Democrats back in the White House and improving the U.S. For IT managers and their peers, it’s helping grow a business, please customers, or make employee’s lives a little easier.

To summon your inner Obama, look for ways to include nay-sayers and troublemakers in the project that empower them, perhaps by having them solve other problems that don’t involve the areas of the project with which they have issues. Find a role that plays to their strengths – if they’re marketers, have them handle communications to staff. If they’re in finance, perhaps they can help calculate the ROI or catch hidden costs. Then, become their champion, and be sure to broadcast their contribution. Can we really bring change to the dynamics of project management this easily? Yes we can!

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