Why Techies Won’t Solve The GOPs Problems

Originally published March 7, 2013

Joe Flacco is a great quarterback who just signed a record-setting contract to make him the highest paid NFL athlete in history. So if you owned the Baltimore Ravens would you name him General Manager and place him in charge of the team’s multi-billion dollar business through the next few seasons? Clearly, the answer is no. A talented athlete does not a manager make.

The Republican Party, however, does this every day. State parties, presidential campaigns, Super PACs and non-profits are continually putting people in places where they don’t belong – and it shows.

If you pay attention to the news, particularly since last year’s November elections, you are seeing a big push for a dramatic change in technology for the GOP. That is, data mining, demographic and predictive modeling, multi-platform synergies, voter contact and outreach, and much more. According to the experts and media, technology is the reason why the Obama campaign was able to so handily defeat Governor Romney, and thus improving the GOP’s technological capability will be the answer to all the Party’s problems.

Do you believe the hype? Do not believe all of it – it is a bubble. It is something for journalists to sink their teeth into because writing about technology is much sexier than writing about the real need that faces the GOP: competent project managers (PMs).

Any person who knows how to be in charge will tell you that technology is a tool. It is only a tool and one of many tools. It is not a cure all, and it is not what will save the GOP. In fact, there are many techies on the “Red Team” who are perfectly capable of building and executing what the past two Obama campaigns have done with technology. What’s missing are competent PMs to recruit them into long-term projects and steer those long-term projects to success.

What the Republican Party is in desperate need of today is a C-Suite class that exists in all other industries but is glaringly lacking in the GOP. Instead of clear-eyed professional PMs with management and leadership experience, the GOP relies on former politicos whose natural instinct is to react to the current news cycle and change programs and initiatives every few days, weeks and months. “Quick, start a new hashtag!”

It’s not their fault – they’ve been trained in politics, not project management. PMs around the globe, however, are trained and tasked with managing projects and executing them through the long-term.

Amberleigh Thetford Dabrowski, a thirty-something Republican, has extensive experience in business development and management. As former VP, Director of Global Transformation at global advertising powerhouse Universal McCann in New York City she helped bring in over $2 billion in new revenue and redeveloped the project management process in their business model.

“Almost every political group or campaign project that I’ve been part of has been devoid of any clear and manageable mid to long-term goals.” said Dabrowski. “There is seemingly no forward planning strategy and no real, tangible vision for the GOP to unite around. Corporations do not survive without the appropriate project management techniques activated, and neither will the GOP if accountability and real project management is not infused into the party in the very near future. I am not impressed or, frankly, interested in any operation that is not visionary, competent or forward thinking, and I believe many fellow Republicans feel the same way.”

Who in the permanent GOP political apparatus actually has any experience outside of politics managing multi-million dollar budgets, over a course of several years, beholden to clients and bosses who force them to perform and meet hard metrics or be fired? This is the leadership and discipline it will take to build a real Republican infrastructure that can compete with the Democrats.

Vincent Harris, CEO of Harris Media, a technology firm with experience running digital operations, among other things, for Newt Gingrich’s and Rick Perry’s presidential campaigns, has grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of management within the Republican Party, “The Republican party has an old guard that is resistant to integrating existing technologies throughout the entirety of campaigns. If we want to build a technology infrastructure, we need people with vision and management experience at the top.”

Ford CEO Alan Mulally is an encouraging example. Despite having never worked in the auto industry, his knowledge and understanding of systems and processes through years at Boeing has made him one of the most successful auto CEO’s ever, turning Ford around in the recession while avoiding a government bailout. Ford didn’t need a dramatic, earth-shattering remake, just adherence to the timeless principles of competent project management.

Evolution requires scale, adapting tactics, releasing old tools and people and bringing on new tools and people. For the Republican Party, technology is one of those important tools, and they have the talented specialists to develop it.

The problem is not that the GOP lacks technology but that no one knows what to do with it.

There are a myriad of campaigns, non-profits, state parties, PAC’s and Super PAC’s that make up the modern Republican Party. As each of these entities adapts and evolves to compete with Democrats in 2014 and 2016, they are no doubt focused on finding new candidates for office. But just as imperative, they must also find new and experienced project managers to guide them in their tasks and finally turn activity into results.