When multiple people are involved in an endeavor, differences in opinions and desired outcomes naturally occur. Negotiation is a process for developing a mutually acceptable outcome when the desired outcome for each party conflicts. A project manager will often negotiate with a client, team members, vendors, and other project stakeholders. Negotiation is an important skill in developing support for the project and preventing frustration among all parties involved, which could delay or cause project failure.
Negotiations involve four principles:
- Separate people from the problem. Framing the discussions in terms of desired outcomes enables the negotiations to focus on finding new outcomes.
- Focus on common interests. By avoiding the focus on differences, both parties are more open to finding solutions that are acceptable.
- Generate options that advance shared interests. Once the common interests are understood, solutions that do not match with either party’s interests can be discarded, and solutions that may serve both parties’ interests can be more deeply explored.
- Develop results based on standard criteria. The standard criterion is the success of the project. This implies that the parties develop a common definition of project success.
For the project manager to successfully negotiate issues on the project, he or she should first seek to understand the position of the other party. If negotiating with a client, what is the concern or desired outcome of the client? What are the business drivers and personal drivers that are important to the client? Without this understanding, it is difficult to find a solution that will satisfy the client. The project manager should also seek to understand what outcomes are desirable to the project. Typically, more than one outcome is acceptable. Without knowing what outcomes are acceptable, it is difficult to find a solution that will produce that outcome.
One of the most common issues in formal negotiations is finding a mutually acceptable price for a service or product. Understanding the market value for a product or service will provide a range for developing a negotiating strategy. The price paid on the last project or similar projects provides information on the market value. Seeking expert opinions from sources who would know the market is another source of information. Based on this information, the project manager can then develop an expected range within the current market from the lowest price to the highest price.
Additional factors will also affect the negotiated price. The project manager may be willing to pay a higher price to assure an expedited delivery or a lower price if delivery can be made at the convenience of the supplier or if payment is made before the product is delivered. Developing as many options as possible provides a broader range of choices and increases the possibility of developing a mutually beneficial outcome.
The goal of negotiations is not to achieve the lowest costs, although that is a major consideration, but to achieve the greatest value for the project. If the supplier believes that the negotiations process is fair and the price is fair, the project is more likely to receive higher value from the supplier. The relationship with the supplier can be greatly influenced by the negotiation process and a project manager who attempts to drive the price unreasonably low or below the market value will create an element of distrust in the relationship that may have negative consequences for the project. A positive negotiation experience may create a positive relationship that may be beneficial, especially if the project begins to fall behind schedule and the supplier is in a position to help keep the project on schedule.
Conflict on a project is to be expected because of the level of stress, lack of information during early phases of the project, personal differences, role conflicts, and limited resources. Although good planning, communication, and team building can reduce the amount of conflict, conflict will still emerge. How the project manager deals with the conflict results in the conflict being destructive or an opportunity to build energy, creativity, and innovation.
David Whetton and Kim Cameron developed a response-to-conflict model that reflected the importance of the issue balanced against the importance of the relationship (2005). The model presented five responses to conflict:
Each of these approaches can be effective and useful depending on the situation. Project managers will use each of these conflict resolution approaches depending on the project manager’s personal approach and an assessment of the situation.
Most project managers have a default approach that has emerged over time and is comfortable. For example, some project managers find the use of the project manager’s power the easiest and quickest way to resolve problems. “Do it because I said to” is the mantra for project managers who use forcing as the default approach to resolve conflict. Some project managers find accommodating with the client the most effective approach to dealing with client conflict.
The effectiveness of a conflict resolution approach will depend on the situation. The forcing approach often succeeds in a situation where a quick resolution is needed, and the investment in the decision by the parties involved is low.
Two senior managers both want the office with the window. The project manager intercedes with little discussion and assigns the window office to the manager with the most seniority. The situation was a low-level conflict with no long-range consequences for the project and a solution all parties could accept.
Sometimes office size and location is culturally important, and this situation would take more investment to resolve.
In another example, the client rejected a request for a change order because she thought the change should have been foreseen by the project team and incorporated into the original scope of work. The project controls manager believed the client was using her power to avoid an expensive change order and suggested the project team refuse to do the work without a change order from the client.
This is a more complex situation, with personal commitments to each side of the conflict and consequences for the project. The project manager needs a conflict resolution approach that increases the likelihood of a mutually acceptable solution for the project. One conflict resolution approach involves evaluating the situation, developing a common understanding of the problem, developing alternative solutions, and mutually selecting a solution. Evaluating the situation typically includes gathering data. In our example of a change order conflict, gathering data would include a review of the original scope of work and possibly of people’s understandings, which might go beyond the written scope.The second step in developing a resolution to the conflict is to restate, paraphrase, and reframe the problem behind the conflict to develop a common understanding of the problem. In our example, the common understanding may explore the change management process and determine that the current change management process may not achieve the client’s goal of minimizing project changes. This phase is often the most difficult and may take an investment of time and energy to develop a common understanding of the problem.
After the problem has been restated and agreed on, alternative approaches are developed. This is a creative process that often means developing a new approach or changing the project plan. The result is a resolution to the conflict that is mutually agreeable to all team members. If all team members believe every effort was made to find a solution that achieved the project charter and met as many of the team member’s goals as possible, there will be a greater commitment to the agreed-on solution.
Delegating responsibility and work to others is a critical project management skill. The responsibility for executing the project belongs to the project manager. Often other team members on the project will have a functional responsibility on the project and report to a functional manager in the parent organization. For example, the procurement leader for a major project may also report to the organization’s vice-president for procurement. Although the procurement plan for the project must meet the organization’s procurement policies, the procurement leader on the project will take day-to-day direction from the project manager. The amount of direction given to the procurement leader, or others on the project, is the decision of the project manager.
If the project manager delegates too little authority to others to make decisions and take action, the lack of a timely decision or lack of action will cause delays on the project. Delegating too much authority to others who do not have the knowledge, skills, or information will typically cause problems that result in delay or increased cost to the project. Finding the right balance of delegation is a critical project management skill.
When developing the project team, the project manager selects team members with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to accomplish the work required for the project to be successful. Typically, the more knowledge, skills, abilities, and experience a project team member brings to the project, the more that team member will be paid. To keep the project personnel costs lower, the project manager will develop a project team with the level of experience and the knowledge, skills, and abilities to accomplish the work.
On smaller, less complex projects, the project manager can provide daily guidance to project team members and be consulted on all major decisions. On larger, more complex projects, there are too many important decisions made every day for the project manager to be involved at the same level, and project team leaders are delegated decision-making authority. Larger projects, with a more complex profile will typically pay more because of the need for the knowledge and experience. On larger, more complex projects, the project manager will develop a more experienced and knowledgeable team that will enable the project manager to delegate more responsibility to these team members.
An instructional design project in Peru was falling behind schedule, and a new manager was assigned to the design team, which was the one most behind schedule. He was an experienced project manager from the United States with a reputation for meeting aggressive schedules. However, he failed to see that as a culture, Peruvians do a great deal more socializing than teams in the U.S. The project manager’s communication with the team was then limited because he did not go out and spend time with them, and his team did not develop trust or respect for him. Due to these cultural differences, the project fell further behind, and another personnel change had to be made at a significant cost of time, trust, and money.
The project manager must have the skills to evaluate the knowledge, skills, and abilities of project team members and evaluate the complexity and difficulty of the project assignment. Often project managers want project team members they have worked with in the past. Because the project manager knows the skill level of the team member, project assignments can be made quickly with less supervision than with a new team member with whom the project manager has little or no experience.
Delegation is the art of creating a project organizational structure with the work organized into units that can be managed. Delegation is the process of understanding the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to manage that work and then matching the team members with the right skills to do that work. Good project managers are good delegators.