Projects are full of negotiations. Our project management consulting team has seen every aspect of an initiative on the negotiating table, from agreeing on milestone dates to deciding the scope of deliverables. It all must be weighed, discussed, debated, and eventually worked out to everyone’s satisfaction.
Unfortunately, there are numerous factors that could cause even very experienced project teams to negotiate poorly, leading to headaches and unhappiness—either within the team or among the other stakeholders—later. If you’ve experienced a situation where you conceded more than you wanted to during project discussions, consider some of the areas where teams are likely to give in and where maintaining a firm position could save you from poor outcomes down the road.
Project teams frequently make concessions when it comes to schedules within the project lifecycle. Some of these negotiation points are easily managed, such as compressing tasks in a way that doesn’t put quality at risk, but many have the potential to create significant problems.
It’s also not uncommon for groups to give in when pressed to accomplish long-duration tasks in too little time. Others may acquiesce when asked to move key milestones up, particularly when other agendas are at stake. This could include scenarios where sponsors want to provide a rosy status report during quarterly updates to the executive team, or when the organization’s leadership group feels pressure to give investors or business partners tangible proof of progress.
Be careful when negotiating your project’s schedule. Keep fixed milestone dates in mind—regulatory review periods, quality assurance cycles, permit windows—and don’t commit your team to aggressive task completion timelines without first confirming they can deliver on them.
We’ve all seen project teams agree to take on workloads that are not only unsustainable, they’re downright unrealistic. Everyone has labored through a staggering list of tasks at some point, usually when in the midst of an uncommonly busy time. However, project groups are sometimes pushed to settle for workloads that are untenable on an ongoing basis. And the more often a team agrees to tackle more tasks than can reasonably be executed, the more stakeholders and business leaders will expect those workloads to become routine.
Don’t negotiate away your ability to maintain good team morale and to retain enough flexibility to accommodate last-minute issues. Task durations and dependencies need to be accurate and realistic, and it’s critical to be aware of other responsibilities that may be consuming team members’ time. Negotiating heavy workloads could cost the company in other areas if your group can’t keep up with the full scope of their duties.
It’s easy to assume that negotiation mistakes around budgeting are primarily limited to how much money the project team is able to secure, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Another misstep is when the group agrees to begin a project before the full budget is finalized. You may be left trying to complete the initiative even if the rest of the funds never materialize. Allowing your project to share a budget with another effort or giving up contingency line items because someone else’s funding negotiations aren’t going well can both also result in an inability to execute your project successfully.
Don’t put your project—and your team’s reputation—at risk due to unfavorable budget negotiations. Bring accurate and detailed cost data to the negotiation table to ensure everyone is aware of the project’s real-world funding requirements. You may still choose to negotiate a lower budget, but you’ll be able to do it with a better understanding of where deliverables or other items require trimming.