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Leave the Politics Behind But Leave an Issues Log23/04/13

A recent client engagement inspired me to pen this short blog. Whether you are an external consultant or an internal employee working on a project or other initiative, there will inevitably be internal politics that pop up at the time you least need them.

The question is ‘do you get embroiled in the politics and try and resolve them?’ Well if you have a chance of resolving them then I wouldn’t deter you from having a go. However, in most cases the politics are bigger than you or me.

The situation I found myself in was where two departments insisted that they were the right entry point for the business to request ICT engagement for new or changed initiatives and to request ICT consultancy and advisory services.

One of these departments was ICT itself and the entry point was the ICT Solutions Team (the existing ‘front door’ for the business). The other department was the CIO Office (overseeing ICT). The latter didn’t feel that ICT itself had the skills and knowledge to assess each change, identify the business needs, assess the risks and evaluate alternative solutions than those being posed by the business.

The CIO Office believed that until ICT had these skills, all requests for new or changed business services, regardless of size should come to them for assessment. Those that were assessed to be of a ‘large’ nature would be handled by the CIO Office and the rest would be passed down to ICT to be handled.

However, the CIO Office was not currently equipped and had no channels for all of these requests. ICT had the capacity and the channels but not the skills. The two departments and heads of each were at loggerheads but no real negotiations were taking place to resolve the issue. There were just isolated conversations taking place stating their different standpoints.

There was no real discussion about the organizational impact on ICT of changing the existing ‘front door’ to the CIO Office. There was no real discussion about how to skill up ICT so that the existing ‘front door’ could be more effective and ensure that each request was accurately assessed from all perspectives. There was no real discussion about how the CIO Office was going to be able to resource itself to deal with all the requests coming from the business.

At one point the CIO Office was stating that large requests should come to them and all others to ICT. But how would the business know what was a ‘large’ request? There had to be one entry point but no one was going to agree on what that was.

As I was creating the ICT Service Catalogue and I needed to know how services were to be initiated, this was an issue for the project.

Having spoken to both parties, it was clear that their ideas were deeply entrenched, each believing that they were the right entry point for the business. Each had decent arguments but neither party seemed to be going to move in order to find a solution that would meet the needs of the business in the most effective and efficient manner.

I won’t go into detail about the solution that I recommended as that is not the purpose of this blog. But it was stalemate for the client.

So what to do? My suggestion for anyone in this situation is to listen to the arguments from both parties and in this case, both had merits. Then document the issue, any associated risks, and make your recommendations. This may be a risk register or and issues log but the important point is to get it documented for the record.

Highlight the impact on the project or initiative and the mitigating actions you are taking in the interim whilst the political issue is resolved.

In my case, this was to highlight that service initiation could be by either channel and the ICT Service Catalogue prior to publication would have the words ‘to be resolved’ in the service initiation field. A reference would be made to the issues log containing the issue/risk and the recommended resolution.

An ideal solution? No. However, this action meant that the issue would have to be resolved prior to the publication of the catalogue, which now gave it some focus and impetus for resolution.

Whilst this approach may seem obvious to some, I have seem many of these issues left unaddressed, undocumented and left to the discretion of the client.

This doesn’t look good on the consultant or project leader who walks away and the political issues still prevail and the desired outcomes never get realised, as they get lost amongst the political angst.

So, the message here is don’t try and fight a fight you are not going to win. Rather bring it to the surface, document it and make sure your recommendations are available to be considered. Raise the risks of non-resolution to bring some focus to the issue and try and force a resolution within the organisation.

So, you can leave the politics behind but make sure you also leave the issue / risk log as well.