Project Management Institute

Let's make a deal


Negotiate your way onto high-profile projects that benefit the company's bottom line, and you'll benefit, too.

After nearly two years as the integration transition manager for outsourced services at IBM, Sydney, Australia, Julia Checchia, PMP, realized the types of projects she was leading weren't likely to move her up the company career ladder.

“I learned a lot about infrastructure and application transition and how to enforce project management to achieve transition objectives, but I felt that I wasn't managing projects that had objectives of growth and contribution,” says Ms. Checchia, a 15-year veteran of project management. “Transition seemed a necessary evil, and I was ready to own a piece of work that would invite growth and contribution to a higher objective.”

So five months ago, she stepped up her networking, tapped mentors and combed IBM‘s internal job search engine. One job in particular caught her interest: a position managing projects that would also require developing new business opportunities. A mentor knew the person who advertised the position, and by the time Ms. Checchia was called in for an interview, she had researched the position and key players. Armed with a keen awareness of project management, as well as strong communication and presentation skills, she was able to talk her way into the position managing projects that will pave the career path she desires.

Today, she is a delivery project executive for managed services and integration transition manager for outsourced services at IBM Australia.

Negotiating your way onto lucrative, high-profile projects is more art than science. Master the skill and your career has the potential to soar. Neglect it and risk getting stuck in one area with little room for growth.

Long before you get to the negotiating table, there's much prep work to be completed. Research and understand the possibilities. “You want to know more about the potential project or opportunity than its owners, the individuals you will be pitching,” says Billie Blair, Ph.D., president of organizational management firm Leading and Learning Inc., Los Angeles, California, USA, and author of All the Moving Parts: Organizational Change Management [Puzzles Press Inc., 2007]. “Learn who the right people are to talk with, and while you might talk to others to gain background information, don't waste time with those who aren't principal players.”

But the research isn't complete until you're clear on the project's business objectives, the problem it's attempting to solve and the anticipated benefits, says Lonnie Pacelli, Seattle, Washington, USA-based author of The Project Management Advisor: 18 Major Project Screw-ups, and How to Cut Them Off at the Pass [Prentice Hall, 2004].


Look at the project's specific challenges and any unique characteristics that the project manager would face. “Then [take] a hard look at your skill sets and ensure you have a convincing argument as to why you are a serious candidate,” Mr. Pacelli says.

If you don't have the necessary skill sets, consider stepping aside. “Trying to get a job as a brain surgeon when you're a first-year medical student not only would be harmful to the project, but could also get you labeled as someone with poor judgment,” he adds.

Ask a mentor or trusted colleague to do a mock Interview with you. They should ask hard questions to test how convincing and strong you come across, Mr. Pacelli says.

Setting aside 15 minutes a day for reading business magazines or trade journals can also give another edge in the negotiation process. Attend as many events as possible in the new area of interest, including chapter meetings of professional associations and trade shows, and participate in webinars.

Expect Opposition

By anticipating potential roadblocks, you just may avoid hitting them. “Don't underestimate the politics,” says Fumiko Kondo, managing director for Intellilink Solutions, a management consulting firm in New York, New York, USA. “You could run into a problem simply because you're a top performer and the person you're currently working for doesn't want to lose you.”

You may also have to fight the perception that you don't have the required expertise. Once on the desired project, by demonstrating initiative and being willing to put in extra hours, you'll likely be put on more projects.

And if possible, find an advocate to put in a good word, Ms. Kondo says.

Nail the Interview

When you are finally ready to approach the decision-maker about being a part of the dream project, it's time to put all the preliminary research to work. “Articulate the risks that you see as potentially derailing the project and what mitigation strategies you would put in place to help ensure the risks don't come true,” Mr. Pacelli says.

Tap into your negotiation skills to make your way onto the project:

  • Convey your understanding of the business value of the project, not simply the technical aspects. Project managers become even more indispensable when they can directly affect the organization's bottom line.
  • Promote the fact that you are a team player—someone who can interact with any audience. “Don't turn the process into a political campaign by smearing the opposition,” Mr. Pacelli says.
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues from the interviewer. Watch to see if the person seems restless and uninterested, or if he or she is listening intently, says Theofanis Giotis, PMP, cofounder and CEO of ITEC, an IT and project management firm in Athens, Greece, and president of the PMI Greece Chapter. If the interviewer seems uninterested, try to engage him or her. “I always use feedback questions that involve the other party, such as ‘What would you do in this scenario?’ or ‘What would be the best outcome for you personally?’” he says.

Get What You Want

If landing on the new project team involves an increase in pay or benefits, the negotiations aren't over yet. Be realistic about compensation. You should have researched the market and have a clear notion of your worth and the perks that should accompany the position. Consider leaving salary discussions for last; tackle job perks and other issues first. Don't let minor matters—relocation provisions, use of an executive dining room or previously scheduled vacation, for example—stall talks. Prioritize what's important.

By no means should the negotiations get heated. After all, you want to start the new position off right. If you demand too much, you may inadvertently raise their expectations of you and stack the cards against yourself. Be sure to allow enough time to effectively negotiate, says Lowell Dye, PMP, TriCon Consulting, a project management organization in Columbus, Ohio, USA.

But even if you don't make it to the winner's circle this time, all is not lost. “Take a second tactic. Often, there's a cross-functional committee or advisory group,” Ms. Kondo says. “If you can't get on the main project team, get on that committee. Get to know the person who did get the project manager position.”

And keep your options open. “You may not get the full-time assignment on a desired project, but you might negotiate for a part-time or temporary assignment,” Mr. Dye says.

Once you've voiced your desire for more, you establish yourself as someone who has come to play. From there, you work to position yourself for the next great opportunity. “Seek excellence in everything you do: Build your network, look for ways to increase your visibility internally and externally, focus on personal development,” Ms. Checchia says. C

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

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