Project Management

10 ways IT projects compare to the U.S. presidential race

As the 2016 U.S. presidential candidates enter the final stretch of the race, we consider how the campaign process compares to project management.

United States flag
Image: iStock

U.S. presidential races are about the battle for the White House, but when you look at the day-to-day work needed to run a successful campaign, these are, in essence, large multi-faceted projects with numerous complexities and roadblocks. The projects' effectiveness play a huge role in determining a candidate's success. Campaign managers are ultimately project managers.

Let's examine U.S. presidential campaigns in relation to project management knowledge areas.

SEE: Check out all of TechRepublic's Election Tech 2016 coverage

1: Scope management

The scope of the U.S. election campaign typically involves specifically identified, defined, monitored, and controlled components, processes, and timelines; the end goal and final deliverable is a President, elected by the people, and hopefully for the people.

The presidential candidate requirements are defined. To be considered for President, a candidate must:

  • Be a natural-born citizen of the United States
  • Be at least 35 years of age
  • Have been a resident of the United States for 14 years

The consideration process is determined.

  • A candidate can declare his or her candidacy for President at any time.
  • The candidate must receive contributions or make expenditures in excess of $5,000.
  • Within 15 days of reaching that $5,000 threshold, candidates must file a Statement of Candidacy with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) authorizing a principal campaign committee to raise and spend funds on their behalf.

The campaigning process is defined.

Once a nominee is selected from each political party the campaign can begin primaries, caucuses, and national conventions. Candidates travel around the country and discuss their views and plans for the country with voters. They participate in debates, interviews, and rallies, as well as advertising campaigns using many mediums, with the hopes of garnering support for their party and ultimately themselves for the role of President.

The presidential election process is outlined. This is the typical cycle.

  • All potential candidates are announced in the spring prior to the election year.
  • The primary and caucus debates occur between the summer of the year before the election, through to the spring of the election year.
  • Primaries and caucuses are held by states and parties between January and June of the election year.
  • All candidates take part in their respective party's nominating convention between July and September of the election year.
  • Election Day takes place in early November.
  • Votes are cast in the Electoral College in December of the election year.
  • Electoral votes are counted by Congress at the beginning of January the following year.
  • Inauguration Day is January 20th of the following year after the election.

2: Communications management

Election Tech

Visualizing the Russian cyberattack

Cybersecurity experts explain how the data breach happened, and Twitter chatter reveals what competing social media factions are saying about the election hack.

Communications management plays a fundamental role in any project; the message should be relevant, concise, and very clear.

In a presidential race, the audience varies from voters to other politicians, journalists, analysts, other leaders, and really the entire world. Candidates are expected to be able to convey their readiness and effectiveness as a U.S. presidential hopeful; if they miss the mark, it can be catastrophic, which is why these candidates require speech writers, reputation management, and public relations experts and an entire campaign management support team to accomplish their lofty goals. With every syllable of every speech, U.S. presidential candidates must strive to factor in not only key issues, but also voters' needs, emotional intelligence, and state of mind.

3: Cost management

According to OpenSecrets.org the total cost for a U.S. federal election ranged from $2.3 billion to just around $6.5 billion (adjusted for inflation) between 1998 and 2014, with funds coming from Political Action Committees (PACs), large individual contributors, small individual contributors, candidate self-funding, and other sources. This type of large scope project can make budget overruns a regular occurrence in short order within the campaigning process, especially as competition intensifies. With so much riding on the outcome for the candidates, the parties, and the voters, having sufficient funding as election day rolls around is critical.

4: Human resource management

An election campaign can become an out of control beast, making it vital for campaign managers to keep pace with who's working on what at any given time and redeploy individuals fast as circumstances demand it.

Although individuals are likely to be hired for a specific role based on their skills and knowledge, the ability to cover others in another area helps to lighten the campaign load immensely when and where needed.

In addition, handling stress and keeping lines of communication flowing appropriately when conflict arises can make or break a campaign when it comes down to the wire.

SEE: IT Hiring Kit: Project Manager (Tech Pro Research)

5: Integration management

Integration doesn't just relate to technology... it takes on many meanings that can refer to various aspects within an election campaign, from technology to individuals (beliefs, religious denominations, genders, ethnicity, etc.) businesses, policies, and so forth. Effectiveness, relevance, and accuracy within any or all of these integrations can be an important factor in how well a U.S. presidential hopeful is viewed by voters and the rest of the world.

6: Procurement management

It's not a hard stretch to link election campaigns and the need for precise procurement management. There are direct and indirect campaign expenses such as direct mail, radio, television, internet, and other advertisement and promotional expenses; and then, there are the associated overhead costs such as office space, stationary, and volunteer- and staff-related costs.

On the procurement side of things, vendors must be carefully vetted to ensure the right level of service, quantity, and quality of products/services are available and provided to meet the campaign's needs in a timely manner.

7: Quality management

Determining quality standards is not only for the campaign outputs, but also for the presidential candidate and his or her messaging and capabilities, and thus, should be very closely monitored and measured. For each political party, their presidential hopeful will be under close and constant scrutiny, as they are ultimately the end product in an election. The way the candidate represents the party is critical to the party's reputation and future existence.

8: Risk management

Within a campaign life cycle, no matter how impressive a candidate or the strategy is, unforeseen challenges and roadblocks are likely to risk even meticulously laid out plans. Risks skulk in the background and foreground by the sheer nature of the competitors and the prize at stake. Mitigation strategies can be acceptance, avoidance, deferral, or reduction depending on the issue, circumstance, and impact to the campaign, candidate, and/or party. As the end of the campaigning nears, tension increases and time becomes limited, making reputation management a huge risk point.

SEE: CBS News coverage of the 2016 U.S. presidential election

9: Time management

Although the entire U.S. presidential election process is almost two years, it may not be a lot of time for some presidential candidates or parties to prepare for the campaign trail. The campaign becomes a presidential boot camp with stops in multiple cities, with debates, interviews, press releases, commercials, promotions, and everything in between.

In addition, candidates and their campaign teams need to plan, debrief, and find time to see their families, sleep, eat, and breathe. Exceptional time management skills can help to create pockets of breathing room that may afford just enough time to re-group and re-think strategies. This may help to manage a campaign much more successfully.

10: Stakeholders

There are lots of stakeholders when it comes to the election; in fact, everyone is a stakeholder, whether they're leaders of large organizations, small business owners, journalists, campaign volunteers or staff, or a presidential candidate. Each stakeholder/voter plays a critical role in the presidential election process—one vote at a time.

Also see

About Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership" and Founder & President of Lead-Her-Ship Group. She's also a project management and IT freelance columnist for various publications, and a contr...

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox