Recently I meet with Renee Stephens, director of Human Resources here at Computer Aid, Inc. We are conducting a “Lessons Learned” review for a project that, in my opinion, had mixed results. One problem I experienced was working in a weak matrix environment. A consequence of that was not receiving sufficient time for project planning and the resulting 6-month delay. I felt uncomfortable not having thorough requirements and a baselined project schedule.
I thought back to an excellent course I took at Keller Graduate School of Management on negotiations. It was always stressed to make thorough preparations going into a negotiation so the problems can be effectively framed. This sets the general direction for discussions.
I plan on using the Lessons Learned meeting to set the groundwork for greater concern and commitment to project governance. By pointing out, as an example, that we didn’t have a baselined plan and that we came in six months late, we should have such a schedule next phase. It’s interesting to note one portion of the work was scheduled and tracked for earned value, and came in on time and about four hours over.
My reading is a chapter on negotiations from one of my textbooks, “Project Management: A Managerial Approach” by Jack Meredith and Samuel Mantel Jr. As negotiations fall under the domain of soft skills and Human Resources, the authors chose to discuss what types of conflict to expect during each stage in the project lifecycle. The likely conflicts during project closing include:
– cost overruns (often forgiven but rarely forgotten)
– personality conflicts (life after the project)
– distribution of capital equipment
Understanding both the HR and the PM aspects of negotiations should lead to a better mastery of the subject and skill. But do you know the punch line to all of this? The meeting was rescheduled.
A course on negotiations is one of the best investments you can make. We all face a variety of situations, and knowing how to work problems out constructively can help in a variety of situations and roles. I think it particularly helps when you are negotiating from a position of strength. When one side has the upper hand, it can be too easy to “crush” the other side. The drawbacks are that you might have been able to benefit even more by looking for a better position for all parties included. Being overeager to “win” the negotiation means closing off potentially creative solutions. Second, you can make you and your organization look bad, and suffer as a consequence despite a superior position.
Negotiation courses are also fun, and you usually walk away hearing a lot of good stories.