Negotiate for Realistic Project Goals

Clients, executives and stakeholders may pressure you you to commit to an unrealistic project schedule or demanding project goals that you know are not achievable. This could be because they are looking to maximize the productivity of the project, or more likely because they are also responsible for a deadline and your project is a part of that. In these situations, there will be pressure to commit to a schedule or target that you know is highly improbable or even impossible to deliver. Under these circumstances, it is critical to negotiate for realistic goals rather than making a commitment you cannot keep. Here are some ideas to help you be prepared for those negotiations

Battling for realistic goals requires that you know what is achievable. If your team has prepared a schedule, study it carefully, analyze the assumptions and double check all the estimates. Supplement your analysis with any historical data from similar projects that have been completed in the past. Having confidence in your estimates will empower you to stand firm when clients, executives or stakeholders push for a commitment that is not possible. Being able to reference historical data that supports your position will also help you be credible and more persuasive as you negotiate.

Don’t say no, but rather reply with choices for achieving the outcome they want. This is an effective negotiation technique because it places the responsibility back to them which will drive a more reasonable conversation. To do this, mentally prepare a few trade-off scenarios in advance of potential negotiations with stakeholders. For example, if stakeholders pressure you to deliver your 1-year project in six months, suggest that is may be possible to achieve that but only if you get more people and more budget to work on the project. Then actually ask them if you can get X more people and Y amount in additional budget at a specific date?

You may also want to suggest that the project’s quality or the project’s scope will need to be reconsidered in order to meet their new demand. For example, if being pushed to complete an effort with less budget or less staff, probe to see if they are prepared to accept a lower-quality project or whether they would be satisfied with fewer features. For example, ask what functionality they are willing to sacrifice in order to cut the budget or ask whether they would be willing to accept a higher rate of failure than it was originally scoped in order to cut the headcount. Presenting them with choices like these and driving them to make trade-off decisions will force a more reasonable discussion.

If you anticipate being pressured to deliver something that is not realistic, be prepared to negotiate with good intent, but do not make a commitment you know you will not be able to achieve. Executives or stakeholders may be pushing you to change some of the dimensions of the project but, if you are properly prepared, you can negotiate with them to find reasonable and mutual ground. To do this, it is important that your estimates are solid and that you can provide them choices for achieving their demands but also the trade-offs those choices will require.

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