negotiating and achieving desire results with stakeholders
Alfonso Bucero, Managing Partner, BUCERO PM Consulting
Getting results is the goal of project managers. The process of making this happen starts with defining a purpose, forming a vision, and working through mission and goals to deliver outputs, preferably outcomes desired by the customer or client and key stakeholders. In practice, many steps are missed or skipped, and stakeholders resist. Learn about the missing ingredients—the integration secret sauce. This paper traverses the journey from vision to reality, defining terms, sharing examples, and illustrating how influencing and negotiating skills are crucial to the process. The net outcome for readers does not require learning a whole new process; rather you come to embrace accountability, reframing, and persuasion as vital tools. Adopt a mindset about key concepts and techniques that make you more complete—and immediately effective to get results—as a project leader.
We define The Complete Project Manager (2012) as a person highly capable of integrating key people, business, organization, and technical skills. The core premise is that success in any environment largely depends on completing successful projects, and successful projects get done by skilled project managers and teams, supported by effective project sponsors. It is the integration across a spectrum of skills that enables certain individuals to make a difference and achieve more optimized outcomes. The ultimate aim of this work is to put action-oriented tools into the hands of skilled professionals who develop a complete set of skills that is the right set to excel in today's competitive environment. The goal is to equip people to be leaders and managers in the project environment and beyond.
The primary audience for this work is project, program, and portfolio managers, in all disciplines and industries, commercial, nonprofit, and government. You may be new to the profession and be seeking a primer to get started in the right direction. You may have a few years of experience and want to get on a fast track. You may have lots of experience but have come to realize that a fresh start and changed thinking are on the agenda, perhaps triggered by layoffs, job changes, or other transitions.
The secondary audience is individual contributors, subject matter experts (SMEs), project team members, managers of project managers, project sponsors, and other executives. You may be new to this role and wonder what you are getting into—how can you better understand the people, roles, and expectations for the people you work with? Or you may be experienced and looking for leading practices that accelerate your performance. This audience is even larger than the number of project managers.
This paper steps through the means to adopt, adapt, and apply a primer for a complete project manager's approach. We address how more consistent, timely, and quality results are possible because project managers apply necessary leadership, influence, and negotiating skills that had previously been overlooked or under applied. Discover an example of a reframing process—a model that addresses rational, power, social, and symbolic frames. Change thinking about influence and negotiations in ways that are powerfully—and universally—effective. Developing soft skills and applying simple tools make a huge difference in achieving greater results.
The journey starts with forming a vision, defining a desired outcome, identifying people critical to getting there, and influencing them to desire the same outcome and work with you to make it happen. Negotiating is a key skill set that both depends upon these elements as inputs and is required to achieve desired outcomes.
Are you ready to play the game? Let's get started.
What Is Project Success?
The typical goal for leaders and managers is to achieve project success. If we take a high-level view of project success, what is the thread that runs through all key factors that determine success and failure? The answer is that these factors are all about people. People do matter. Projects typically do not fail or succeed because of technical factors or because we cannot get electrons traveling faster than the speed of light; they fail or succeed depending on how well people work together. When we lose sight of the importance of people issues, such as clarity of purpose, effective and efficient communications, and management support, then we are doomed to struggle. Engaged people find ways to work through all problems. Our challenge as leaders is to create environments for people to do their best work. These are our stakeholders—the people who fund, care about, work on, or are impacted by our projects.
There are a bountiful harvest of definitions of project success (and just as many explanations for project failure). Meeting the triple constraints is just a starting point. Sometimes we can be right on scope, schedule, and resources, and still fail to be successful, perhaps because the market changed, or a competitor outdid us, or a client changed its mind. We could also miss on all constraints but still have a successful project in the long term. It is important to get all requirements specified as accurately as possible; it is also important to be flexible since needs and conditions change over time or as more becomes known about the project as it progresses.
We suggest an overarching criterion for project success: conduct one-on-one discussions with key stakeholders and ask them for their definitions of success. Pin them down to one key definition each. We may get some surprising replies like, “Don't embarrass me.” “Keep out of the newspaper.” “Just get something finished.” We may even get conflicting responses. Our jobs are to integrate the replies and work to fulfill stakeholders’ needs. Having this dialogue early in project life cycles provides clear marching orders—and forewarning about what is important to key stakeholders.
Having established that success or failure is all about people, our goal now is to learn how to be better leaders and managers of people, not just projects.
The Importance of Vision
A vision statement is a vivid description of a desired future state once the project is successful. It is unique to that project, and stakeholders will know when that new state is realized.
Building a common project vision is no academic exercise. It is pragmatic and can be relatively simple. Having the right vision can carry us a long way. The right vision defines the direction of our project. It constitutes the reason for initiating projects in the first place. It sets the tone of the overall project and what we want to achieve. It helps overcome obstacles because it is a driving force.
To get a handle on vision and how it comes to be a part of a good leader's life, understand these points:
- Vision starts within. Vision comes from inside. Draw on your natural gifts and desires. Know yourself better; ask other people for feedback to get a fuller picture of your competencies and areas for improvement.
- Vision draws on your history. Vision grows from a leader's past and the experiences of the people around her.
- Vision meets others’ needs. True vision is far-reaching.
- Vision helps you gather resources. The greater the vision, the more winners it has the potential to attract.
Where does vision come from? To find a vision that is indispensable to leadership, become a good listener. Listen to several voices:
- The inner voice: Do you know your life's purpose as a project manager?
- The unhappy voice: Discontent with the status quo is a great catalyst for vision.
- The successful voice: Nobody can accomplish great things alone. Fulfilling a big vision requires a good team. But you also need advice from someone who is ahead of you in the leadership journey. If you want to lead others to greatness, find a mentor. Do you have an advisor who can help sharpen your vision?
- The higher voice: Although it is true that your vision needs to come from within, do not let it be confined by limited capabilities.
Vision is essential to more than initiating projects for an organization. We manage many projects in our lives, and one of them is our professional development as project managers. All project managers need to manage their careers as a project—or, rather, like a program—which requires vision. Growing personally and professionally should be a project manager's obligation. Such growth requires time, effort, passion, persistence, and patience. Work on your vision to build up your professional career. Without a clear vision, it will be difficult to achieve great things as a project manager.
Harness the natural forces operating in organizations. Tap people's need for purpose by clarifying, in a purpose statement, an enduring reason for that group of people to work together, such as “leading the continuous improvement of project management across the company.” Craft a vision statement about a desired future state—for example, one in which the practices for project success are:
- Concisely documented
- Widely understood
- Willingly adopted
- Appropriately adapted
- Enthusiastically applied
so that people managing projects continuously improve how they do their work and lead others to quickly achieve excellent results.
The purpose and vision statements above both came from the corporate HP Project Management Initiative, of which this author was a member. The statements derived from deliberations among ourselves and served extremely well to remind each of us every day why we were there and what we were doing. We developed a mission statement for specific objectives we needed to achieve and then goals for each member that tapped our interests and talents and clarified how and when each of us would contribute to overall objectives.
Here is another vision statement about a project management office:
We lead the strategic planning effort to derive a project portfolio that implements our strategic goals. We then provide qualified Project Managers to support those projects and lead the project teams to achieve desired results.
Our value to the organization is widely recognized, as we align Program Management efforts with those strategic goals to produce results.
We measure our success with the execution of our project portfolio according to agreed upon metrics.
And another example:
The departmental PMO integrates the management of all projects and resources across the organization, using a set of project management standards and best practices that fit the culture of this organization. As a result, all knowledge, controls, and support make the difference through projects that achieve higher client marketing index scores and customer service and customer satisfaction ratings.
A facilities engineering organization may want to set this vision:
Our PMO recognizes the importance of each project to the strategic objectives of the organization. We align objectives to provide exceptional value to our customers, resulting in the design of high performance buildings. We facilitate this objective by working in partnership with project managers, sponsors, and stakeholders to ensure consistent delivery of projects across the organization that meet our and client standards for quality, innovation, sustainability, and profitability.
Note how robust these statements are, in that any member of the team could elaborate and talk all day about the meaning of each phrase and how work proceeds to accomplish the vision.
Stakeholder analysis is integral to developing a political plan. One fun way to do this is to apply traits or characteristics of animals to people within the organization. This is proven to be a less risky approach to sensitive topics, and people quickly come to understand the challenges of dealing with these “animals.”
For example, assess each individual with regard to the degree of mutual trust and agreement on the project or program's purpose, vision, and mission. Then start a stakeholder management strategy by reinforcing positions of strength and then working on areas of concern. Use the knowledge about traits and behavior patterns to address each stakeholder's needs—and to protect yourself when necessary. Realize that different kinds of “animals” speak different languages, so the complete project manager needs to become multilingual, meaning that you adapt your language to whatever is most comfortable and customary for the person with whom you are speaking.
The Political Jungle
One element of a political plan that can help create win-win political victories is assessing and negotiating the political landscape. An organic approach to project management means observing the world we live in and using or applying natural systems to organizational challenges. Especially when implementing any change in organizations, resistance arises. This resistance can be likened to someone new entering the political “jungle.” Resident animals react to this invasion in different ways, most often by attacking the invader. These reactions can be noted and then used to guide the interloper to act in ways that will ensure his or her survival and enable creation of something new.
The political process is always at work in organizations, and the political jungle is chaotic. Success comes to those who identify the “animals” in the jungle and recognize that they exhibit certain traits and patterns. Each is driven by a purpose. Interacting effectively with these “animals” and influencing them involves working in their preferred operating modes, speaking their language, and aligning common purposes.
Leading change in political environments is a learned skill. It involves assessment, identification, skill-building, planning, and application. It also involves knowing the potential of project management and the willingness to apply a disciplined process to a web of simultaneous projects across the organization. Like all learning, being effective in this environment involves movement between reflection and action.
Peak-performing people use potent processes, positive politics, and pragmatic power to achieve sufficient profit and keep organizations on a path toward a purpose. By applying these concepts to tough situations, project leaders become better equipped to implement change, develop skills that achieve desired outcomes, and advance project management maturity in their organizations.
Reframing is seeing negotiations, conflict, politics, or decisions through different lenses, each with a different frame around it. At its very basic, reframing means viewing project management as people management, with the purpose of achieving strategic goals instead of just assembling tasks and timing charts. Reframing means adding more alternatives, options, and considerations for review. A wise leader introduces reframing very early in a negotiation in order to get people out of ruts and into thinking differently. This process opens doors to better compromises or creative solutions.
According to Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal (1997), the same situation can be viewed in at least four different ways. As depicted in the Table below, possible frames include structural or rational, human resource, political, and symbolic. Each frame has its own image of reality. An ingredient in the “secret sauce” applied by successful complete project managers is to apply multiple frames to the same—and every—situation. This technique helps us connect with reticent people who each have a different view or way of seeing the world.
As we apply all four frames in the table, we develop greater appreciation and deeper understanding of people and organizational situations. Galileo discovered this when he devised the first telescope—each lens that he added contributed to a more accurate image of the heavens. Successful managers reframe until they understand the situation at hand.
|Frame||Metaphor||Central Concept||Image of Leadership||Basic Challenge|
|Structural/rational||Mechanical System||Rules, roles, goals, policies, science and technology||Intelligence||Align the organization to task, technology, and environment|
|Human resource||Family||Needs, skills, relationships, and feelings||Empowerment||Align organizational and human needs|
|Political||Jungle||Power, conflict, competition, organizational politics||Advocacy||Develop an agenda and power base|
|Symbolic||Theater||Culture, meaning, metaphor, ritual, ceremony, stories, heroes||Inspiration||Create faith, beauty, meaning|
Table 1 – Adapted from Bolman and Deal, Reframing Organizations, 1997 Reprinted with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Let us apply reframing to a decision that may face managers in an organization: Should a team be co-located? Project goals may dictate that most active project team members need to be in the same physical location, where they have a team meeting room and places to post project documents and are able to develop a sense of community. Circumstances, however, might require that people operate virtually, around the globe.
- Structurally, it makes sense to have people co-locate for highest performance, but financially, it may be less expensive to keep team members where they currently reside.
- The human resource frame acknowledges the necessity for face-to-face encounters to build rapport and resolve contentious issues quickly.
- Politically there may be power-based “empires” that want to protect home turfs, or local regulations requiring people to work in home locations.
- The symbolic gesture of co-locating people on a high-priority project conveys a clear message that people are expected to focus on the project, work (and play) together, and complete heroic challenges.
Each frame has its pros and cons. The deciding factor may be current priorities as applied to various frames.
Multiframe thinking requires movement beyond narrow and mechanical thinking. Complete project managers who master the ability to reframe get a liberating sense of choice and power, develop unique alternatives and novel ideas about what organizations need, are better attuned to people and events, are less startled by organizational perversities, see new possibilities, determine wider ranges of outcomes dealing with uncertainty, and anticipate turbulent twists and turns of organizational life. They are like artists who reframe the world so others see new possibilities. For example, in various situations, reframe a different view of people not as problems—instead, everyone possesses accountability and needs to behave accordingly.
Accountability is how people make promises to deliver on commitments to each other and then either deliver or renegotiate. This is opposed to a slippage culture, where people make promises to deliver to each other and then either deliver or don't deliver. Accountability on a larger scale means each person commits and takes responsibility for a successful outcome of the whole, whether that whole be project, unit, or organization.
A leader needs to make an initial assessment of how people and projects within the organization align to goals and execute organizational strategy and then integrate the way people work together. It could be that an effective communication system is lacking; perhaps a strategy exists in stealth mode, invisible to most people; individuals are not collaborating; commitments are loosely conveyed; and promises are not kept. Projects suffer by not delivering on requirements, costing more than budgeted, and taking longer than scheduled. What—or who—is really to blame? All fingers point toward human interactions. Eliciting explicit commitments to accountability is the antidote.
Resource Planning Checklist
Although the project sponsor and steering committee are ultimately responsible for assigning scarce resources, it is important for the project leader to demonstrate consequences to the project deadline or quality if the necessary resources are not obtained. Involve the project steering committee or project sponsor in the decision-making process for resource utilization.
Do an analysis of all key people who have a stake in the project in order to know:
|What To Do||How To Do It|
|Understand||Assess and understand real human resource needs for the project|
|Establish expectations||Define accountability measures and performance expectations for all resources|
|Recognize||Recognize all issues and concerns regarding human resources and make them visible to the project sponsor|
|Identify||Identify preferred communication processes for each stakeholder|
|Mitigate||Mitigate potential conflicts in areas such as availability, opposing priorities, personalities, and skill levels.|
|Develop||Develop collaboration mindsets such that resources form loyalties and accountabilities for the project or program.|
Table 2 – What to do and how to do it
Best Practices in Negotiations
Negotiating is one of the daily tasks of the complete project manager. Apply the following practices as you work through a negotiating life cycle.
|What To Do||How To Do It|
|Decide to negotiate|| |
|Follow up|| |
Table 3 – Negotiating Practices
Applying Negotiating Rules
Examples in the Table below illustrate ways in which ten rules of negotiating might apply in a project management environment:
|Rule||Project Management Example|
|1. Be patient||Dealing with a team member who is underperforming—and perhaps defensive—may be uncomfortable for a project manager, so the tendency is to get the encounter over with as quickly as possible. A better approach is to develop rapport with the person, ask for permission to provide feedback or suggestions, carefully answer any questions that come up, and take the time to reach a satisfactory agreement.|
|2. Be positive||A principle of persuasive influence is to deal with people you like. Having a positive attitude when interacting with project sponsors helps build confidence and credibility in their minds. This means they will engage more willingly with you in supporting the project and maintaining that support throughout the project life cycle.|
|3. Gather information||Clients or customers have challenges that may be addressed by the outcome of the project. Ask probing questions about what they are doing—and listen to the answers. Review the relationship history, especially if support issues have come up; determine whether or not they were adequately addressed. Find out clients’ timetable or deadline, both to purchase and then to implement the solution.|
|4. Float trial balloons||Ask “What if we could provide key features in Phase 1 and address other wants in later phases?” These questions make no commitments but do explore reactions from the other party about possible approaches they may be willing to consider.|
|5. Know your status||Project managers are closest to the action on most projects and have significant status, attributable to the information they possess. Other stakeholders have status via the authority they have to allocate resources or dispense funds. There is a real opportunity to achieve better outcomes when one side is anxious to reach agreement; the other side may then nibble to gain additional concessions, perhaps by extending a resource's time on the project or reducing features in order to meet cost or time pressures.|
|6. Know your opening offer||You estimate a project will take between 4 to 6 months, and the customer may say that they want it in 8 months, in which case there is a cushion. But if you were aggressive and quoted first, saying the project would take 4 months (the bottom line), there would be no room to negotiate. Conversely, if the customer has no clue and thinks you can deliver the project in 2 months, open first by quoting 6 months (the edge of the envelope). You will then have room to negotiate something in between.|
|7. Limit your authority||Try to negotiate with the decision makers so that you deal with them directly and get agreement quickly. When you are the decision maker, have someone else negotiate on your behalf so that you cannot be pinned down by hardcore negotiating tactics. This provides opportunity to practice patience, review the proposal more thoroughly (instead of in an emotional moment), and come back with counterproposals.|
|8. Know your bottom line||Two vendors have similar products; one has a slight edge and costs more. You want the better product but have a strict budget limit of $10K. Negotiations with the higher-priced vendor proceed in order to get a lower price or arrange terms that fall within the budget limit. Use the limit to stand firm, negotiate with due diligence, and fall back on the other vendor if not successful. Knowing these limits allows you to determine whether to continue or walk away.|
|9. Be prepared||Have a risk management plan that provides advance notice of technology that may not work or tasks that could take longer than planned. Clear trigger points invoke contingency plans calling for negotiations on the pros and cons of various options, leading to quick resolution. Preparation helps you avoid being caught by surprise and having to invent options where none previously existed.|
10. Never reward intimidation tactics
|A PM who does not push back against unreasonable scope, schedules, or resources is training sponsors to continue such demanding behavior. Instead, set expectations by negotiating the triple constraints at project start-up and when changes occur. Make concessions when the other side makes them as well. Do not give in to intimidation tactics, or “the beatings will continue until morale improves.”|
Table 4 – Negotiating rules
Two additional, very pragmatic “rules” for negotiating are:
Ask for it: the other party can always say no, but you never know until you ask for something…and you just might get it.
Get something in exchange for every concession: when you agree to do more for the boss or a client, get something back from them, e.g. more time, more money, or more recognition.
One of the principles of effective negotiating is to go for win-win. That should be the only acceptable outcome. (If that is not possible, a wiser approach is to invoke the option not to negotiate, especially if the status quo is acceptable.) Intentional influencing does not have to result in winners and losers, or be characterized as manipulation, conflict, or competition. To achieve win-win outcomes:
- Consider all stakeholders and how they will be impacted.
- Ask for their thoughts and listen carefully to their responses; answer their questions.
- When problems arise, consider how to alleviate them, or what outcomes might make solving the problem worth the extra trouble.
- Offer something of value to the other party in exchange for what is being asked of them.
Another key principle is being prepared for a negotiation—knowing both side's options, as well as starting and desired end points. People are definitely at a disadvantage when they are asked to negotiate without this information. Then ask lots of questions and take more time to fully explore both sides’ needs and options before rushing to a judgment, which could have far-reaching, negative consequences.
Are You “In the Game”?
In a project discussion about additional costs being added, a statement was made “I don't want to play that game.” The other party took offense, believing it trivialized the situation. The conversation did not go well.
However, this thinking and use of words are valuable tools in the complete project manager's toolkit (2012).
Let us define what we mean by games. Games have rules. Each player in the game has a role, or tasks, and shared goals. To be in the game means we learn, understand, and agree to abide by the rules. We can be penalized for violating the rules. Games have scores, or metrics. We win, lose, or tie against others in the game. We chose to play the game…or not.
When viewing project work (or any other activity for that matter) as a game, that means we know the rules and understand standard practices. An organization may have a certain way to conduct work or projects. We get into trouble when doing it differently. People may resist or refuse to operate in a different way. The project may not achieve desired outputs and outcomes. I (Englund) was told one time that before I suggest doing something a different way, I need to fully understand the way it was done now and why. This “sensitivity training” was a valuable lesson for me.
So now we have options. Once we understand the game and its rules, we can play the game as usual or even better than ever before. Or we can decide to change or make up new rules. Or we can decide not to play the game and not participate.
These options are wonderful, liberating tools. It puts a different perspective on life. Yes, there are consequences; the penalties may be stiff. We may be accused of not being a team player. But we also may serve as pioneers to take organizations into innovative territories. We invent new markets, new ways of competing. We become role models for higher levels of performance. We make a difference in the worlds around us.
We may be either respected or scorned for this behavior. It is our choice for what we do. We cannot control the reactions of others. But we can exercise free choice and accept the consequences.
So ask yourself these questions: Are you in the game? What is your role? What are you contributing to the project, team, and organization? How can you change the game? Are you satisfied with the status quo? Are you okay with the scoring system or should the measurement system be revised? Do you want to play this game, or do you want to find or invent a new one? Do you possess the requisite skills, or are you ready to develop them?
These questions start the process: begin with yourself, assess the current situation and environment, envision where you want to go, enlist the help of others to get there by sharing the vision using vivid language and compelling scenarios, apply persuasive skills, take action, and get results. The secret sauce that makes all this work? Commitment, integration, negotiations.
A mindmap summarizes key points:
Figure 1 – Summary visual
An outline and toolset for a personal development action plan would have a format like:
- Leadership/Management skills
- Defining a multi-level set of competencies
- Leading vs. managing
- Conducting stakeholder analysis
- Motivating self and others
- Personal skills
- Changing attitude
- Start with accountability
- Using humor
- Assessing aptitude
- Applying passion, persistence, and patience
- Identifying influence/persuasion skills
- Dealing with chaos--the role of purpose and shared vision
- Identify new lenses--reframing reality
- Negotiating skills
- Building awareness - doing it everyday
- Adopting principled style
- Applying rules of negotiating
- Demanding win-win scenarios
The summary reinforces that, through conscious application of these skills, tools, and a changed mindset, project managers get recognized by achieving business outcomes that had heretofore eluded us. This leads to greater levels of personal satisfaction and professional advancement, based upon increased influence capabilities and effective stakeholder management. We are in the game, having fun, and successful.
Bolman, L., & Deal, T. (1997). Reframing organizations. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Englund, R. L., & Bucero, A. (2012). The complete project manager: Integrating people, organizational, and technical skills. Tysons Corner, VA: Management Concepts Press.
Englund, R. L., & Bucero, A. (2012). The complete project manager's toolkit. Tysons Corner, VA: Management Concepts Press.
© 2013, Randall L. Englund & Alfonso Bucero
Originally published as a part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – New Orleans, Louisiana