Caucus Lessons for the Project Manager

Caucus Lessons for the Project Manager

The Iowa Caucus is over and the candidates have moved on. Since the results were announced (still not completely final at this writing) there have been numerous stories and articles dissecting just what went wrong. Whose fault was it anyway, and how can it be prevented from ever happening again? Will this kill the Iowa Caucus as we know it? Let’s leave it to the pundits to continue the discussion about methods for counting delegates, alleged interference with the Iowa Democratic Party phone banks, or the now infamous “APP.”

Like many folks interested in politics, I tuned in to the media to learn the results of the caucus. I optimistically stayed up later than usual hoping for some breaking news. But there were only angry journalists and quizzical expert analysts. For some reason my thoughts that evening turned to the many times I’ve read and heard about the high percentage of projects that fail, and what a good project manager should do to ensure success. As a project manager, what lessons could I learn from this event?

First, have some empathy. Haven’t most of us experienced a project that failed? The possible causes are endless, and no matter what the textbook says, a project manager usually doesn’t have control over all the variables. I don’t know who the project manager was in this case, or even if there was one, but whoever the people involved were, I feel badly for them. I know what crisis management is, and it is hard.

Managing risk has also been a strong theme as I think about the caucus. It isn’t hindsight that tells us that the impact of failure was off the charts. We’ve seen it play out before our eyes in a very public way. But how do we measure the probability of failure? In this case there were multiple points of potential problems, ranging from the event itself and the tabulation of results to the primary and secondary methods for reporting the information. The fact that there could be no flexibility in the launch date was also a factor. For many projects, the act of pushing back the schedule a week isn’t such a big deal. For this event, no such opportunity existed. As I think about my current and future project activities, this is a stark reminder to take risk management very seriously.

Hidden in the reporting was a small item that stood out to me as an issue that may have increased the risk of failure. The essence is that an external party had allegedly required a security update shortly before moving the application into production. The specific facts are not known, but haven’t we all experienced the last-minute request of a stakeholder or product owner? Of course, we want to be agile and satisfy the request, but we also know that the introduction of something new can increase risk and affect the quality or performance of a product.

A final lesson for me is the importance of communication with all of the stakeholders. In this case it included the caucus participants, the volunteers in the so-called “boiler room,” the media, the candidates themselves and the entire community of the State of Iowa. As project managers we will all at some point be confronted with the challenge of balancing the desire to “buy time” and “get it fixed first” with the benefits of being open and transparent with all of our stakeholders. That is such a tough judgment to make, but when the impact and probability of failure is high, I am reminded that it is vital to plan for those communication actions in advance.

My hope is that cool heads will prevail and that the Iowa caucuses will continue. It is an imperfect but valuable process. In the meantime, these are a few lessons that will stay with me for a long, long time.

This blog was first published on the Project Management Institute (PMI) blog for the Central Iowa chapter.

Ballot Issues and the Non-Profit Organization Manager

Ballot Issues and the Non-Profit Organization Manager

Think about the position of a not-for-profit organization in a community considering a ballot issue to raise taxes (school bond issue, public facility levy, local option tax). The organization probably has members on both sides of the issue. Some may just be against tax increases of any kind. Others may benefit directly or indirectly in some way – they may be a construction contractor or perhaps a financial institution providing resources for a project. There are any number of possibilities. What should they do if asked to express an opinion on the subject?

Choosing Sides or Choosing Silence

Choosing sides, and overtly favoring or opposing a ballot is probably not the right direction to go. Someone is sure to be unhappy – and that’s just not a good place to be for an organization dependent on member dues, investments or charitable contributions. Not to mention, certain not-for-profit organizations can’t take sides without jeopardizing status with the Internal Revenue Service.

Remaining silent doesn’t seem constructive either. A community organization such as a local development group should care about tax policy, public budgets and generally the business climate in their respective communities. “No comment” just doesn’t work.

Staying Neutral While Getting Involved

In most cases the right answer is help inform their members and contributors, the community and voters of the factors to consider when making their decision in the voting place. For example, a reasonable stance for any economic develop organization is to support a tax policy that is stable, predictable and comparable to neighboring communities. The conventional wisdom would be that a tax policy that is in the range of “normal” isn’t going to affect business location decisions, and the community will likely have enough resources to provide reasonable levels of service.

Non-profit organizations can also bring their knowledge about an issue to the table and share information about factors that might affect policy choices. Again, using the economic development organization as an example, this might include things like the ratio of commercial to residential property in a community, the comparative density of development, the cultural and social characteristics of the community, or the comparative level of average household incomes. Helping people understand facts and context can simply contribute to more informed decision making. And broadly speaking, shouldn’t everyone work to foster civil community engagement?

Walking the Line

Walking the line between advocacy and opposition can be a tricky path to follow, and keeping information balanced and factual is not easy. Silence is the easy option, but not necessarily the right one. If you find yourself at this trailhead, our team has the background and experience to help you navigate safely.

Welcome to Enterprise Iowa

Enterprise Iowa, Inc. is a project management and organizational management firm.  Since 2000 we have been privileged to work on many successful projects. Most have been within the confines of the State of Iowa, but some have involved issues at a regional or national scale.  Our background and experience in managing projects is diverse ranging from business operations to public policy initiatives.  The bottom line is that we have the project and program management skills to work with subject matter experts in almost any area to accomplish an organizational objective.  We have evolved into a project management firm with the capability to manage a project to completion and then carry it forward into program operations.

Many of our early experiences originated in the public sector where we worked to apply entrepreneurial and private sector approaches to public programs and services.  We also take some pride in applying a Midwestern work ethic and Iowa values to our work. This is the source of the name Enterprise Iowa.

Our home base is in the Greater Des Moines region – specifically Johnston, Iowa.  If you have a project or program which demands successful implementation please contact us to arrange an initial consultation.