The Art of Negotiation: A Good Marriage and Project Babies
9 Jan 2013
Guest writer Diana Hennessy is a Senior Project Manager at SilverStripe. As someone who is passionate about business, Diana has a diverse background in many industries. Mainly in a marketing capacity she's worked in finance, real estate, contemporary New Zealand art, and the beauty industry.
Recently I have been thinking a lot about project negotiations, both from a vendor side and from a client’s perspective. It’s a lot like being married.
At the beginning of any project, you generally start with all parties happy and confident of pending success, just like a new romance. It has been said that this stage ‘is the dumbest you will ever be in a project’ - meaning by the end, you will know it all due to experience.
With any new 'partnership', there needs to be firmly established rules around, if anything were to go off track, how we would deal with it together, so that ‘no one goes to bed angry’, so to speak.
As part of my project kick off, I typically introduce the equivalent of a ‘pre-nup’ - our Project Plan and RICD register. This tool helps to put right up front how we will deal with any foreseeable issues. RICD stands for Risks, Issues, Changes and Decisions, and this is a place we store our initial project information, which will be a working document throughout.
For someone who has had both failed projects, (and a divorce), it is very clear to me that this is a vital and constant area that needs attention. Complacency is the death of many happy assumptions. Adding risks into a register, with the client, at the beginning of the project, and including proposed mitigations for dealing with them, help keep everyone on the same page. An understanding of what we face as a team is key to later negotiations, as if this is not fully understood by one party or another, then there will come a point when negotiation is needed, and you find yourselves on opposite sides of a very long table.
We use agile techniques to control our projects, typically Scrum, to ensure the right thing gets built at the right time, to provide the best value for our clients. As part of this, the client can change their mind. It's okay and expected. We handle that by showing the impact of the change. If they need to either reduce other scope to fit that into the original budget, or add more budget to increase the scope, it can be clearly demonstrated.
The problem comes when a client wants both. ‘More scope, no more budget - but I still have promised my boss the other stuff’. This often results in the ‘marriage’ getting a bit rocky. Hopefully, there was a clear mitigation we had discussed at the beginning; it could have been as much or as little as ‘someone outside of the project team needs to talk the options out’. My rule is: always present at least two feasible options, and remind the client what the original goal was, and if it is still valid. It's completely okay to reassess business focus as we go within the given constraints.
Being transparent means that we all know where we stand, what the options are, and the next steps. No one needs to feel cheated or taken advantage of in this relationship.
We are definitely the marrying type here at SilverStripe. Moving on with our relationship analogies, the project itself is a lot like a first pregnancy. So many unknowns once you sign up for it, but you are both in it till the end, with a lot of learning along the way. It's a journey that both parties are responsible for, regardless of the role.
Early stages of the ‘project baby’, there is often little to see, while the initial setup and base for growth is bedded down. Everyone is excited by the prospect of the end result, as it feels so optimistic. Both sides get on with getting as prepared as possible, so as to ensure the early stages are well structured and as healthy as possible.
By the time you reach the second trimester, loads of exciting things are taking place, visible changes, and your focus is growth of functionality. The first signs of how it may look are there and it’s starting to be recognisable as an actual website.
Around the end of this time, I call it the 70% freak out, things start getting shakey. No matter how good it has been up until this point, the reality of ‘launch’ hits, and you just can’t imagine how it will all come together. There seems so much left to do, or decisions not made, or things not fully complete. But like any pregnancy, it does come to an end, there is no choice really, and things do come together for that big day. Your creation makes it into the world, in one piece, with all of its fingers and toes. It may not be exactly as you imagined it in the beginning, but it is yours to take care of from here.
There is still a lot of growing to do, and in most cases, the launch is just the beginning. I guess just like a child, the more attention you show it the more rewards you will see.
Okay, enough with the analogies. Really, all we need to worry about with a relationship, and a project, is; be frank and honest (even if it may not be something anyone wants to hear), commit to doing it well and stick with it, get through the low points to the highs, and communicate constantly.
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