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Let’s Make a Deal – The Art of Project Negotiation

You’re a Business Analyst or Project Manager on a technical project. You probably realize most of the roles and hats you need to play and wear. You are a task master, a resource manager, a change agent, a master communicator, a meeting facilitator, a financial wizard, and a critical decision-maker.

And now you find out you are also a master negotiator. Yes, master negotiator. Or at least, you should be. At least, you better be ready to at least “fake it till you make it.” You may be negotiating right now on your projects and not really realizing it, but you might want to focus on where you are doing the negotiating and pinpoint what you are doing and work at improving those skills. Why? Because you will always need those negotiating skills – likely on every project that you manage to some degree – and you’ll want to continually improve in this area. Again why? Because you often need to rely on winning those rounds of negotiation in order to win on your project or keep it moving forward and keep your project customer satisfied and confident in your ability to keep the project running efficiently and on track in terms of time and budget.

Do you consider yourself a negotiator?

Whether you are a Business Analyst or Project Manager, you are negotiating from time to time on the projects that you are engaged on or managing. Do you consider yourself a negotiator? Have you been aware of these events as the projects unfold? Let’s consider what these negotiating opportunities and needs are so that we can be aware of them the next time they occur and use our negotiation skills to our maximum benefit and become even better at negotiating when we need that skill next time. Some negotiation events or opportunities we likely run into during the course of some of our projects throughout our careers are:

Negotiating for resources. Maybe you really need a top technical resource, and you can afford to put more of a part-time Project Manager or Business Analyst on the project – or one with a little less experience – because it’s a very short-term, but very complex project with a complex technical solution. You negotiate that resource acquisition to the most favorable way possible for your project, right? You look at the landscape of your resource needs and trade-off accordingly because you’re never going to get the best of the best at every project team member position anyway.

Negotiating for task assignments. You look at your resources on the project team and the tasks to which you need to assign them. When are they going to be available considering their other project commitments with other Project Managers and Business Analysts and which tasks do they love or hate. Some “don’t do windows”, so to speak. I had a contractor on my house who would do everything but hated to paint, so I found someone else to paint and he gave me a great price on all the work he loved to do. Negotiation – it gets tasks assigned and to the right people who have the right skills and love that specific work.

Negotiating for deadline dates. Sometimes deadline dates need to move, for whatever reason. Usually for the good of the project, but that doesn’t mean you won’t need to do a little negotiating with the project client to make date changes happen. As the Business Analyst, you can work with the technical team and see what functionality can be shifted around if you are doing a phased rollout on an Agile project. The key is to show the client documentation that convinces them the project won’t be at risk, and the trade-off is not going to affect them adversely. It may take some skilled negotiating, and you will have to do this from time to time. If you haven’t yet, you will.

Negotiating for project funding. When have you ever run a project that had an abundance of funding available? If additional funds are needed – if that is even an option – you may find yourself negotiating for those extra funds. Whether that’s from your senior management or the BA going to the client and explaining why the technical solution is going to cost more than originally planned – either way negotiating skills will likely come into play.

Negotiating on project change orders. Just as for additional funding, you may find yourself negotiating with the client to get needed change orders approved. Usually, this will come up as needing to give away some work for free in order to get sign-off on a needed change order that will add needed functionality to the project but also will end up costing the project client more than they originally planned to spend.

Negotiating on technology used for project solutions. Sometimes the client comes in with a technical solution in mind. In fact, the latest and greatest technology may be the entire reason the project was initiated. How that technical solution is implemented, and even the technology behind the solution may need to be changed from what the sponsor originally wanted for practical purposes or to stay withing budget and time constraints. Either way, negotiations will likely need to take place.

Summary / call for input

I realize that some of these instances just happen, and you may not have considered them negotiating points. But many times they are. And you can leverage one incident against another when necessary to get what you may really need or want on the project. You can take a less experienced tech lead resource in exchange for the top data integration specialist this time around because data integration is critical on this project but you can let the top tech lead go to another project. In the long run, you’ll be ok. There, you just negotiated. It’s often give and take – you gave, and then you took.

What about our readers? When have you had negotiating opportunities on the projects you are working on? What strategies do you employ to get the things you need and the dates you require and the funding that is critical to your project? What other negotiating opportunities would you add to my list above?