As project management professionals work to hone their negotiating skills, it often seems the opportunities to use these talents are relegated to contract and pricing discussions. Those may be the most obvious situations that call for a competent negotiator, but there are actually many instances throughout a project’s lifecycle when good negotiation techniques—some subtle, some overt—are likely to be required.
To achieve the best results, PMP®s should be ready to pull out top-level negotiation strategies when confronted with any of these run-of-the-mill scenarios.
1 – Persuading stakeholders. Bringing people around to your way of thinking, whether it’s a discussion about controlling scope creep or early-stage timeline planning, often requires a soft touch backed up by firm resolve. How your team sets the tone with stakeholders early in the process may dictate how well the relationship works later, and you don’t want to set yourself up for a combative partnership going forward. Maintaining a clear eye on what your team can realistically deliver while working with stakeholders to find mutually acceptable solutions to the issues that crop up is no easy task, so be ready to employ your best negotiation skills.
2 – Setting expectations. It’s uncommon for project teams to announce stakeholder-impacting news without receiving some level of push back, even it’s minor. But unless you want to foster an us-and-them environment (which isn’t beneficial for anyone), your team will probably need to be ready to make some revisions to the expectations that are set from time to time. It’s likely some level of user concerns will need to be addressed. There may be consequences your team didn’t anticipate, such as work disruptions or impacts to ongoing operations. Gaining an understanding of stakeholders’ concerns and working with them to reach agreement requires someone skilled in identifying workable alternatives and related negotiation techniques.
3 – Resolving labor and supply issues. Your Project Team may be the customer, but working through resource availability problems requires a bit of finesse to achieve the optimum outcome. Your team may need to work with suppliers on staggering timelines or pulling resources from another project. Priorities must be weighed and impacts calculated, both on the part of the vendor as well as within the Project Team. Working to identify how best to address these types of issues often requires a keen sense of what’s absolutely critical and where adjustments can be tolerated, a foundation of good negotiation strategy.
4 – Managing team workloads. Tasks and responsibilities are typically managed as part of the day-to-day activities of the Project Team and with little fanfare. When everyone knows their job, few activities truly begin in orphan status. But occasionally, either when the team is particularly busy or an action item is complex or uncommon, there may be a need to devote more focus to managing the various workloads happening inside the Project Team. Successfully ensuring that all affected team members are on board with how tasks are assigned—and working with the group to address concerns about timeframes, skill levels, and even equitable distribution of responsibilities—calls for an experienced negotiator.
5 – Developing new leaders within the Project Team. Though every leadership candidate should participate in formal negotiation training as part of their career development efforts, those acting as mentors within the Project Team should also be skilled in this competency. Part of a leader’s role is to turn project opponents into allies, a task that requires a savvy negotiator who can be either delicate or direct, depending on the situation. Mastering a multitude of approaches to negotiations takes work, but a good leader knows how to employ the right strategy every time.