Is project manager the new buzzword in the political campaign world?

Abstract

The process of a political election is not an enigma; it is simply a project of a unique nature. The enigma is actually the absence of the project management methodology from political campaign management. Traditionally, the task of winning an election is assigned to political dignitaries, advertising experts, strategy consultants, personal aides, and an array of volunteers forming a conglomerate of professions and experiences, driven by a common motivation (Riker, 1986; Schofield, 1998). Management expertise is usually limited to the actual control of sub processes. Yet, we claim that it is time for the industry to stand up to the challenge.

Based on the paradigm that project management carries a universal value, regardless of arena (Shtub, Bard, & Globerson, 2004; Kerzner, 1999), a research was performed in order to investigate the hypothesis that implementation of project management methodologies enhance the efficiency of political campaigns, hence, candidates who use project management methods are expected to get better results.

The research was based on a procedure that compared, over a period of five years, the performance of two similar campaign projects implemented in several municipal political elections. One group focused on organizational aspects, employing qualified managerial skills throughout the processes of decision making, while the other invested heavily in advertising and aggressive political combinations.

Results reveal that every single municipal candidate profited from the contribution of the project management methods and techniques, some to the extent of increasing substantial actual support, which was manifested by a larger amount of council members elected.

This paper starts with a theoretical background section introducing the political campaign process in project management terminology. It focuses on six major project management knowledge areas. Then, the research population and methodology are briefly presented and the measures of comparison are explained. This is followed by the research results and conclusions. The paper concludes with some suggestions for implementation of a successful political campaign project.

Background

A project of a municipal political campaign has a double headed target: the candidate must be elected for the office of mayor and his/her supporting team of council members must be large enough in order to be able to manage successfully the municipality. A partial result such as an elected mayor, but a very small supportive group of members, almost always, promises an impossible working situation and a constant strained relationship. Hence, the analysis of the project characteristics must relate to both targets.

In contrast to the common perception of a political campaign as a marketing endeavor, we would like to designate to the election campaign the title of a “Project”. In support of this paradigm we present an analysis, based on six of the nine well-known project management areas of knowledge (PMI, 2004).

 

Integration Management

“The Project Integration Management Knowledge Area includes the processes and activities needed to identify, define, combine, unify, and coordinate the various processes in project management activities within the Project Management Processes Groups” (PMI, 2004, p.81). These activities are extremely unique in a political campaign. The task of identification, followed by definition of the various activities in a campaign, is intricate in so far that the process is dynamic with a frantic mobility of its core activities along the course of action.

 

Scope Management

The planning of the WBS for a political campaign is a pure nightmare. The task of defining a process based on an array of activities, in an ever-changing set of requirements, is extremely demanding, but does not preclude the endeavor from being a project (Shtub et al., 2004). The project plan requires a double-headed WBS composed of a two meta-summary tasks. The first meta-summary task requires a preliminary identification of the body of potential supporting voters, followed by a detailed process, designed to efficiently motivate the non-committed eligible voters. The second meta-summary task focuses on the planning of the Election Day management. The successful completion of the second is based totally on the results of the first.

 

Time Management

The due date of election is final and no delay is possible. Therefore, the time management must be planned backwards, starting at the Election Day, which is the end of the project. The correlation between any theoretical schedules, as good as may be, to the actual events in a political campaign is very contingent. Due to an immense amount of external constraints, too many duration estimations are doomed obsolete. Reorganization of priorities becomes extremely cumbersome under these conditions. Hence, a political campaign project schedule requires the setup of a sequence of dynamic activities that can be manipulated during the course of the project, without seriously impacting the critical path.

 

Cost Management

The campaign budget is regulated by law. The amount is prorated to the volume of the municipality's eligible voters. Every candidate (including the number of supporting council members’ estimation) must submit a projected budget based on the predicted election results, to be approved by the election committee. This procedure defines the total budget and any deviation is punishable by law. Since the actual reimbursement takes place after election, the candidate needs intermediate funding, which is normally achieved by a large operation of small donations management. Hence, the management of a campaign budget is complicated and requires unique professional skills.

 

Human Resource Management

A political campaign is characterized by interesting human resource management equilibrium. The campaign manager must wiggle between two resource pools: volunteers and temporary hired help. The volunteers are normally difficult to be managed, but do not strain the budget. Professional temporary employees, to be employed only for a short duration, are hard to come by and might be very expensive. Maintaining an efficient equilibrium between the two types of human resource usually presents a major problem for the human resource management, since no common organizational structure can be applied (Kerzner, 1999). The ongoing negotiation with the complex of employees might augment a simple local skirmish into a major personnel crisis.

 

Risk Management

The array of risk events in a political campaign is probably endless, deriving from esoteric risk factors, such as political equilibrium or voter preferences. Nevertheless, a risk management plan is definitely required (Raftery, 1994). Such a plan must contain response plans to a large variety of uncontrolled external risk events that constitute major impacts on the success of the campaign. At best, the campaign project manager might be able to mitigate the impact of the risk events on the project, but has almost no influence on the risk probability occurrence (Shenhar, 2001). The political arena is extremely fluid, thus the level of uncertainty is very high and the project objectives are constantly changed due to political decisions, which are actually outside of the scope of the management of the political campaign plan.

Research Methodology

A comparative research of the municipal elections in Israel was launched on 2003 and came to a completion on 2007. During this period different types of municipal election took place. The major flow of data for the research was obtained from a vast number of political campaigns that took place in adherence with the pre-scheduled nationally planned elections. The additional data was derived from sporadic secondary local elections that took place due to early retirement of mayors from office.

 

Research Population

The research includes 12 pairs of municipals election campaigns. The participating municipalities were divided into four groups, containing three participants each, based on their total number of eligible voters. The first held municipalities with a voting population larger than 350,000. The second group was limited to municipalities of about 200,000 eligible voters. The third was limited to about 100,000 eligible voters, and the last one contained small municipalities of no more than 50,000 eligible voters.

 

Research Method

The research was based on a series of in-depth interviews with major stakeholders in each one of the campaigns. The interviews were conducted following the three most important milestones in the project. Normally, the interviews took place after the initiation phase, then following the completion of the potential supporters’ identification phase. The last interview was conducted right after Election Day.

Typical questions set forward to all research participants included analysis of the planning stage, comments on the ongoing management of the timetable, the quality of the risk plan and response, the ability to manage the personnel, and a thorough investigation into the quantitative control measures.

The data was gathered concurrently from every two pair partners. At the end of every interviewing session the results were accumulated and compared.

Research Measures

The comparison was focused on a series of measures common in the project management industry. The most significant ones are presented.

We monitored the budget control measures including an analysis of the CV (cost variance) and the CPI (cost performance index) values related to every phase of the project. We examined the schedule control measures including the analysis of the SV (schedule variance) and the SPI (schedule performance index) values related to every phase of the project. We reviewed the quality of the risk management plan by: (a) the number of identified risk events; (b) efficiency of the risk management team to respond to risk occurrences; and (c) effectiveness of the risk plan to forecast such events. We analyzed the distribution of funds between the investment in media and public relations on one hand, as compared to the investment in organizational and operational tasks on the other hand. We investigated the efficiency of the various organizational structures by comparing the ability of the mélange of volunteers and paid personnel to perform the assigned tasks. And, finally we compared the results achieved by each one of the groups in terms of number of voters, who actually voted in support, the number of council member elected, and the deviation of the final results from the estimated ones.

Research Findings

The most impressive result that we found is the constant advantage of the heavy investment in organization and operation manifested in the vast success of this type of political election campaigns. We found that campaigns that were run under project management methodology yielded much better task assignment which led to an improved utilization of the various human resources. The funds expenditure was extremely better controlled and yielded a lower cost for almost every one of the tasks, while preventing budget overruns. The fact that management was tight and the responsibility and accountability were well-defined prevented schedule variances and eliminated serious delays.

Election Results

Out of the 12 pairs of election campaigns, two thirds of the winners conducted a campaign which was managed and controlled by project management methodology. Each one of those succeeded to elect more council members than the other group, which was running a campaign based on a marketing strategy. The following table (Exhibit 1) presents the actual results of the campaigns. The data is presented only for the winning candidate of each pair. (Campaign type P represents Project Management campaign; Campaign type M represents Marketing campaign).

Election Results Distribution for the Winning Candidates

Exhibit 1: Election Results Distribution for the Winning Candidates

The impact of the project management strategy and methodology are most obvious, at the mid range size of municipalities, as we can see in exhibit 1. In these types of municipalities, that included campaigns 04 to 06 and 07 to 09, the advantage of project management planning and execution yielded success in a vast majority. Five out of six municipalities, with a population in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 eligible voters, show a clear winning of the mayoral candidate. It should be noted that the success of the mayor to be elected does not necessarily carry the success of most of his endorsed group of council members to gain office, as can be seen in campaigns 04, 07, and 09. Small campaigns are characterized with a close relationship between the candidate and his/her voters. Thus, the impact of his/her personal involvement in convincing potential supporters that his/her candidacy is the best thing for the municipality, is of extreme importance and has a major influence on the results of the campaign. In this case, an outcome of the vote can produce an impossible equilibrium that normally leads to an un-functional local government. This type of situation is presented in campaign 12, where a very influential mayor was elected, but the house is totally controlled by opposing members.

Conclusions

Based on the research, we would like to offer a blueprint for a successful political campaign project. The first order of business must be a dissection process of every campaign project into three phases. Phase number one consists of all the activities necessary to define the best profile for the candidate in order to allow the maximum number of voters to be able to coincide with the projected candidate (Riker, 1980). This is normally achieved by analyzing geographically, and socio-economically, the history of the voting habits of the eligible voters. Their current preferences are usually attained by a series of telephone surveys.

The second phase includes two major summary tasks: (a) identification of all the supporters and accumulation of all relevant data to be used for contact purposes in the future; and, (b) swaying the opinion of most the non-committed eligible voters in favor of the candidate. This phase must produce the deliverable of a complete and detailed plan for the motivation for the supports to actually vote on Election Day.

The last phase is a sub-project of extreme importance. During one day it is necessary to make sure that the percentage of voting supporters exceeds the percentage of the average total voting, at any given time.

Bibliography

Kerzner H. (1999) Applied Project Management: Best Practices on Implementation, New York, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

PMI. (2004) A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge 3rd ed. (PMBOK® Guide), Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute

Raftery J. (1994) Risk Analysis in Project Management, London: E & Fn Spon

Riker W.L. (1986) The Art of Political Manipulation, New Haven: Yale University Press

Riker W.L. (1980) Implications from the Disequilibrium of Majority Rule for the Study of Institutions, American Political Science Review

Schofield N. & Sened I. (1998, December) Nash Equilibrium in Multiparty Competition with Stochastic Voters, Annals of Operations Research 84(0), 3-27

Shenhar A. J. (2001) “Contingent Management in Temporary, Dynamic Organizations: The Comparative Analysis of Projects”, Journal of High Technology Management Research, 12(2) 239-272

Shtub A., Bard, . F. & Globerson S. (2004) Project Management: Processes, Methodologies, and Economics (2nd Ed.), Prentice Hall: Englewood Cliffs, N.J

© 2007, Holzmann Vered & Holzmann Ben A.
Originally published as a part of 2007 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Atlanta, Georgia

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