Ideally, as project managers, we follow best practices when managing projects, we keep the project on track in terms of budget and timeframe, and we keep the customer as satisfied as possible.  If we do all of that, then we’re successful, right?  Maybe, but not necessarily.  I touched on this somewhat before in an article on whether or not the project manager should be concerned with office politics. In that article I made it clear that I’m not usually one to care too much about office politics – for me it’s all about serving the customer and ending the engagement with a deployed solution that the customer can use.

Influence of organizational culture and politics on projects

That said, the project manager who does not understand or chooses to discount the impact that the organizational culture or political environment may have on the project may be destined to a life of mediocrity at best. The project manager must be aware of cultural and political elements and seek to understand them. To completely avoid their influence is not a good idea.

Let’s look at it in terms of some questions that come to mind.  The following questions may help:

  • How do various groups feel about project management?
  • Who are the real decision-makers in any given situation?
  • What kind of results tends to get positive recognition and rewards?
  • Why do these two departments hate one another?
  • Which members of management can make things happen and which just blow hot air?
  • What can I get away with?
  • What types of behaviors and attitudes are valued around here?

Keep in mind, being politically astute is not the same as “sucking up.” Not even close.  It means such things as knowing who to see in case of trouble, knowing the boundaries of appropriate risk-taking, figuring out who will support you and who won’t, and keeping key players informed.


So does all of this really change how we manage the project?  No, not really.  We still put our pants on one leg at a time.  We still use a nice project management tool like Seavus’ Project Viewer to keep track of our project schedule.  We still distribute all necessary project documentation like status reports and budget reports, and issues/risks list and associated project deliverables.  We do what’s expected of us in terms of project management best practices.  But we need to be aware of the affects that organizational culture and politics can have on our project and who we are dealing with so as to be serve our project and give it the best chance of success possible.  It’s in our best interest career-wise and from the standpoint of performing for our customer.