Negotiations and Project Managers

Communication Skills for Project ManagersConflict is a growth industry. The subtle and delicious irony of that statement in the introduction to the book “Getting to YES; Negotiating Agreement without Giving In” makes this book truly an important read for project managers.

As introduced in the last blog post, I am a volunteer with PMI.org’s Organizational Project Management (OPM) Community of Practice (COP.) A COP is PMI’s new virtual communities of interest.

What is OPM?  It is “The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to organizational activities and project, program, and portfolio activities to achieve the aims of an organization through projects” This is from PMI’s Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3) – Second Edition (2008)

Why is a book on negotiating important to OPM? We negotiate when there is a lack of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques needed for project work to accomplish the aims of an organization. We negotiate when there is conflict about how to achieve either tactical execution or strategic goals of an organization.

Good project managers are effective negotiators. We get good outcomes for the projects and programs we run. According to Getting to Yes, an outcome is judged by several factors.

It is a wise agreement ( if a feasible agreement exists.)

It should improve or at least not damage the relationship between the parties.

It should be efficient.

Let’s explore these and how these are applicable to OPM objective of linking project work with the strategic needs of an organization.

Wise agreement

Getting to Yes states we need to Invent OPTIONS for Mutual Gain. There are lots of things that stop us project managers from implementing this; lack of time, jumping on the first option offered, colorful and difficult personalities, and assuming you know what the agreement should be. Getting to Yes suggests that we make time and Focus on INTERESTS, Not Positions to create those options. Interests are desires and concerns of our project stakeholders. Often we only focus on the requirements they give us and not on why they are asking for those requirements. The book continues to offer suggestions on how to explore these interests.

Improve relationships

This is the second outcome of an effective negotiation. Sometimes it just seems that we can’t improve relationships during tough negotiations with sponsors or powerful stakeholders. Getting to Yes acknowledges that dynamic and defines hard vs. soft positions. Soft tends towards concessions and acquiescence and hard tends towards competing. Project managers may always be forced to choose the soft strategy due to lack of power compared to the executives we support when discussing balancing strategic objectives and portfolio decisions (kill, maintain or accelerate funding.) Executives may be perceived as having the right to hard positions.

Getting to Yes suggests that we Separate the PEOPLE from the Problem to improve stakeholder relationships. The book contains great suggestions on how to improve communication skills, focus on a positive and purposeful discussion and control your emotions. Plus there are excellent chapters on What is They are More Powerful? What if They Won’t Play? What if They Use Dirty Tricks?

Efficient

This is the third outcome of an effective negotiation. Ah – this is a Project Management strength. Getting to Yes suggests that we Insist on Using Objective CRITERIA. We need to ensure that we are clear on measurements in often fuzzy negotiations. Criteria includes what a court decides (yikkes,) precedent or moral standards. Very interesting and relevant examples!

This book balances presenting principles that can be used for negotiations of all sorts; raises, resources, reallocations of portfolios and beyond. We are professionals of strong emotional opinions. Use this book to balance the process of linking strategy with project work and your passion in executing this work.

Enjoy this book. I did!

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