Message to Som Gollakota

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Woodinville, WA
Project Management - Negotiation by a Project Manager
March 30, 2008
O
ne of the modern day negotiation mantras is “win-win”, essentially stating that both parties at the negotiating table must win. At Microsoft, it’s a “win-win-win”, outlining the importance of the “invisible” and often ignored customer/partner as the third winner. Excellent strategy at the outset! What if there are more than two or three parties at the negotiation table? Then what? A two party negotiation typically occurs in a legal battle, or deals between two corporations, contract negotiations etc. A "win-win" says everyone gets something they want, and no one gets everything. I call it a "no one wins, no one loses" situation - a draw.
We all negotiate - for everything and all the time. For project managers, it's their daily job. The parties involved are seldom just two. In a project, negotiation is not necessarily a "win-win" or "win-lose" deal. It is a "Win" deal. It may not always seem as such, but it is the responsibility of the Project Manager to make sure that it is seen as such. Otherwise, a win-win may turn into a "lose" situation if the project fails while trying to keep everyone happy. A win-lose may also turn into a "lose" situation if the project fails because the project manager scored a win against the customer to keep the scope, and ignored some business-critical late-breaking change request.
Therefore, a project manager must focus on helping various groups do the "right thing", by asking "what do we really want to accomplish here?", rather than - how do I get the final word/say, or whom should I focus on pleasing more, or how do I deliver the project at any cost? A successful negotiation in a project is not even a negotiation; it is a collaboration effort. One that requires the project manager to ask and seek answers to many questions.
  1. What are we negotiating for, and against? What is really at stake here?
  2. If we don't agree (or agree), who tends to lose (or gain) what - at an individual, team, group, business, corporate levels?
  3. What is the scope of this project? What are the business requirements? What business value do they add?
  4. How do the goals of the project stack against what we are negotiating? How does the project rank against company's goals and other projects?
  5. What would we have to forego in order to accommodate this? Do benefits outweigh the losses? Or is it the other way around?
In extreme cases, the unfortunate outcome of answering the above questions is a recommendation to kill the project altogether. The project manager owns this recommendation!
In normal and most cases, the outcome is more pleasant than drastic. The project moves forward with either reemphasized or redefined goals and objectives that we all can agree on and live with - and those that make business sense.
Regardless of what the outcome is, asking these questions at the negotiating table, and helping the team answer them brings about the most fantastic change in the negotiating business. The parties at the negotiating table are no longer negotiating - they are collaborating! They are collaborating for the sake of better business, and collectively moving towards common goals - thinking in terms of Collective Success, Business Value, Business Sense, Corporate Goals.
In conclusion, a successful project manager does not negotiate, but Collaborates, and builds a Collaborative Team!
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