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The Art of Negotiation in Project Management
By Mark Norman

Today we have a look at art of negotiation and what we, as project managers, need to consider when involved with negotiations during project delivery.

I have previously looked at aspects of risk and stakeholder management and I have presented tools and processes for creating a risk and stakeholder management baseline. The on-going management of risk and stakeholders will depend, to a degree, on your ability to negotiate with people to achieve desirable outcomes. A key distinction should be made at this point; a desirable outcome may not necessarily be the best case outcome but lies within a tolerance we have set ourselves in advance of the negotiation.

As project managers we are used to dealing with the management of constraints but also dealing with conflicting views, agendas and interests. To resolve these conflicts we are often call upon to negotiate.

In advance of a negotiation take time to understand your role, is it:

  • As an observer
  • An active participant seeking to negotiate for a personal outcome

  • An active participant trying to bring two or more parties to an agreed position

There are many views on how to approach negotiation but personally I recommend that you try, wherever possible, to maintain relationships with those you have to negotiate with. Unless the situation is particularly extreme then be conscious of the fact that you may need to work together in the future. The literature often refers to this as win-win negotiation, it means arriving at a point where both parties are comfortable with the outcome, it may be less than ideal but is mutually agreeable.

To find the point of mutual agreement spend time understanding the different views held by the interested parties. Also consider the authority, power and influence of these groups. Spend time speaking to or meeting those directly involved or on the periphery to understand their perspectives. The more intelligence you can gather the better as this will help you formulate your position and understand the likely responses to this position.

Also take time to understand what upper and lower limits of tolerance exist around the negotiated position. Be aware of your level of authority and understand where you may have to seek further approval if the potential agreed position is outside these tolerances.

Equally, consider the impact and consequences of a failure to achieve a desired outcome. This is likely to impact on time, cost and quality and may require sponsor intervention to either approve or resolve.

Negotiation is often an iterative process and will cycle through planning, discussing, pitching, bargaining and finally agreeing. Always formally communicate an agreement in case this is challenged later in the project. Be ethical in your negotiation and be aware of any cultural influences that you may need to consider.

This is a personal view on negotiation based on my personal experiences, please share your experiences and views on negotiation and let’s learn from each other in the PM community…

Mark Norman is a leader, project manager, part time archaeologist and mountain climber. You can read more from Mark on his blog.

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