Saying “No” the right way

A colleague of mine, Schalk Klee, has a couple of posts of interest (Schalk’s blog is here).  I had forgotten to link to his original post on saying “No” as a PM (here), so his follow up post on when and how to say “No” (here) was an appreciated reminder.  Schalk highlights the balance that must be struck:

We all know that good scope management and customer focus are both critical success factors for value adding projects and in a professional service environment there is always the sales focus as well.  How do I balance this?

This is where I believe the art of making a deal comes into play.  This is a skill that a “good” project manager has to develop.  How do I give my client what they want without putting myself into a worse position?  Creative thinking, negotiation tactics and customer focus all need to be combined. 

Deal-making and negotiation skills are not emphasized enough in most PM career paths; frankly, I could stand brushing up on them myself!


4 Responses

  1. […] conflict management.  These books were some of the results from the Harvard Negotiation Project. Paul – you can start with […]

  2. Is that really about saying ‘no’? I’d say it’s more about looking for a consensus which satisfy both parties.

    If you were in a situation where a client forces you to build another functionality to your application would you reject? The functionality which will take a lot of time to build but it’s somehow extraordinarily important for the client. I guess you’d say ‘yes’ and try to find a way which would make the thing less painful on your side.

    Customer is always right principle works. Of course there is a place for negotiation but when the client is determined a vendor always takes a step back.

  3. Hi Pawel,
    Thanks for your comment… Sometimes it is about saying no — or as the Japanese say “Yes, but.” There are times when we don’t take business, especially when we are being “forced” to do so. But if we aren’t taking their money, is that customer really a customer? IMO, no, at least not for that topic.

    Of course, I agree that the customer is always right — which makes it critical to be choosy about one’s customers. But the application of that principle is tricky. PMs who allow scope creep to happen on their projects often justify it with a customer service rationale — “the users asked us to build it.” But are the users really the customer of the project? Aren’t the executives who chartered the project and the company they represent the customer? Too many IT staff and PMs are very confused about who is the “real” customer.

    Back to your example: when presented with such an opportunity or change request, we can certainly say “yes we can build functionality X.” But there is almost always a trade off that needs to highlighted, at least in the typical enterprise project or program The release will have to be pushed, or the functionality will need to be delivered in a future release, or we’ll need more resources, or we’ll have to assume more risk, or there’s a platform dependency, etc.

    In other words, there are choices that the customer — the economic buyer in our terms — needs to make based on his/her strategy and where this project/program fits in. I believe that PMs need to be able to illuminate and influence these choices so you can get to “win/win” whereever possible.

  4. […] 4th “D…Paul Ritchie on Saying “No” the ri…Pawel Brodzinski on Saying “No” the ri…Good PM 3 – Convey b… on Saying “No” the […]

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