Negotiation Skills – Major Project Survival Weapon

We all know how important negotiation skills are in our daily part of life. Be it bargain shopping or project crises, everywhere we end up using a 'give and take' approach for arriving at some sort of agreement or conclusion. When you go out for shopping bargain, you base your decision-making tactics around known constraints in hand, i.e. money, urgency, and your requirement.  A similar approach can be utilized while negotiating during a project crisis.

There are various project situations, but this topic is based around the following scenario within project management. You are working on a project with close attention from the top executives because it is critical for the implementation of organization strategy to compete against market demand.  Initial project scope has been agreed upon. A project delivery date of 6 months as per schedule has been agreed and signed off. Because of the change of external factors such as competitors launching similar solutions in 5 months timeframe, the management thinks of launching solution in 4 months instead of 6.

You’re called for the crisis meeting. If that’s the case, then how should you deal with this situation? As mentioned earlier in the shopping bargain scenario, it is crucial to identify and understand current project constraints. High-level project constraints are Cost, Schedule, Quality, and Scope. These constraints are highly dependent on each other and changes to any of them would impact other limitations. Prepare your proposed business case around it when preparing for the meeting.

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Most of the junior project managers feel that since it is an executive decision, they have very less control and accept it but know that it might lead to project failure. Some project managers play aggressive in order to get praise for accepting such challenges risking project failures, but one failure could ruin one's whole career and can cause financial loss to the organization. It’s important to base your project manager career on certain principles. We all know you need to be practical, and sometimes you might need to make judgments which might not go as per the book but stick to project management principles as mentioned in PMP.  

One benefit of that would be you would go to the meeting with high confidence which will be based on facts and numbers.  Forget your audience in this scenario and focus more on project success. If delivery is possible with the increased cost, then put forward that suggestion first.  If the management is ready to spend extra, then the problem is solved, and if not, then you are better placed with your next suggestion as you have made them aware of the constraints from their end. This will open doors for the trade-off. The best negotiation tactic in this scenario would be to trade off project scope with the deliverables. 

Identify scope candidates which can be part of phase 2 and recommend a phased approach. This option works for most projects. Everyone goes happy with this outcome. Deliver a vanilla solution as per market demand and add extras as per priorities. If in a certain scenario, it is not practical to reduce scope then playing the quality card is the last option, reduce efforts on quality control and highlight all the potential issues with them being about brand image, future business loss, etc. This way, you have kept everyone informed about possible issues. As mentioned earlier, these are best practices; it would provide better control when dealing with project crises.

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