SAY “NO” WITHOUT BURNING BRIDGES

Sometimes project management teams just have to say, “No.” Requests by stakeholders can’t always be accommodated (for good or bad), no matter who they are. But whether it’s an issue with resource availability or a request that doesn’t fit into the organization’s overall objectives, there are some strategies that will help Project Teams decline stakeholder requests without damaging the relationship going forward.

Say No

Provide background information

Much of the frustration stakeholders feel when their requests are denied is tied to simply not understanding why the project team can’t accommodate them. Offering them greater insight into the reasons behind your decision will go a long way toward not only smoothing ruffled feathers, it may actually improve the stakeholder’s engagement level down the road.

First, help the stakeholder to see how their request fits into the project’s bigger picture. How will it affect the budget and timeframe? Does it impact other stakeholders? Do you anticipate downstream effects that would be negative in the long run? Is staffing or resource availability within the Project Team an issue? These are all things that might not have occurred to the stakeholder when they made their initial request, and offering people better clarity on these details may be all that’s needed to preserve their support.

Know where you can negotiate

Once you provide the stakeholder with additional background on why you can’t approve their request, you may discover they’re actually more flexible than you expected when it comes to modifying what they want. They may even offer their own assistance to see their original desires approved. Is there help the stakeholder could give that would allow you to accommodate them? They might have funds available in their budget that could be transferred to the project team, or it’s possible they have access to staffing or other resources that would allow your team to address and resolve the concerns it has identified.

Would a scaled-back request even be doable, and would it still achieve what the stakeholder wanted in the first place? Be willing to consider alternative solutions that don’t interfere with the project’s ultimate success, but know where your ability to negotiate ends.

Offer alternatives

It may be difficult for stakeholders to see where other options exist—or how they would look once implemented—so if you’re able to provide them with some alternatives to consider, it’s often helpful to do that. It’s also vital to let them know what would be expected of them (if anything) if they agree to an alternate solution. Carefully delineate if new or additional impacts would be felt by the requesting person or group, such as work disruptions or a reduction in scope in another area of the project.

These repercussions are often not clear to stakeholders at the outset, as project teams typically manage issues like this internally. To avoid potential problems later, it’s important that you work with the stakeholder to set appropriate expectations about how the project—its execution and its achievables—may change as a result of these substitute solutions.

Be comfortable with your decision

Sometimes a project comes along that simply isn’t popular with everyone. Just because you aren’t able to accommodate every stakeholder request doesn’t mean the project’s achievables aren’t valid and valuable. If the team has objectively evaluated the inquiry and determined it’s either not possible or preferable to include the stakeholder’s request as part of the project’s scope, then you can be comfortable saying no to the inquiry, even if that means upsetting the stakeholder. By handling the matter in a professional and transparent way, you’ve done your best to maintain that good relationship moving forward.

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