It is not often recognised that a project manager must be a people manager as well. Often project managers come from a particular technical stream and they find themselves elevated to a leadership position without any formalised management training. Their first project may confront them with their first test in team leadership.
Most project managers therefore excel at the technical aspects of project management such as scheduling, design and testing. Many, however, are weak or uncomfortable with the core management disciplines which deal with ‘soft skills’. This section will give an overview of some important people skills for the project manager.
Negotiation can be a tricky business for technical people, we tend to see the world as a black-andwhite environment. ‘Techies’ often believe that there is a right and wrong way to solve a problem, or that one technology or solution is the ‘best’ available. This is part of their drive for perfection but in truth there are many ways to solve a problem and each technology or solution has its strength and weaknesses.
Negotiation is the process of achieving consensus while avoiding conflict. Central to this is the understanding that the best solution to a problem is one which attracts the consensus of all those involved. A unilateral (binary) solution is by definition not the best solution since it alienates or disappoints someone. Finding the best solution will involve compromises and the project manager will be the fulcrum around around which the discussions between different parties revolve.
Most people view discussions as a zero-sum-game. That is, in order to “win” or succeed, someone must “lose”. For example a salesman might believe that he will “win” if he can convince someone to buy a product at a high price. This is a zero-sum attitude, the salesman has “won” and the customer has “lost”. A customer on the other hand might not care about the price and might be willing to pay if the product has the right features. If the salesman can work out what the customer wants he might be able to sell him the right product. Further if a particular product doesn’t have those features, the salesman might be able to drop the price or offer other incentives that will convince the customer to buy. If he achieves this then they both win.
This is the art of negotiation.
Problems can be broken down into a number of elements which, when handled separately, produce trade-offs by which you can achieve a “win/win” solution. This is a solution where both parties walk away happy. This avoids the dichotomy of a binary, yes-no problem and the situation where both parties hold equally strong views, resulting in conflict.
This requires a leap of faith. If you approach discussions with the idea that negotiation is some tricky way to beat people and get your own way, you will certainly fail. People are not stupid and most will be able to discern your intent regardless of your outward demeanour. Negotiation must be undertaken from a basis of trust and if people feel you can’t be trusted then it doesn’t matter how clever your approach. Try it out for yourself. Approach a discussion with an open attitude and work through to a consensus. Afterwards evaluate how you feel about the solution; you may be surprised. If not, get a job as a used car salesman.
Nick Jenkins is an IT manager with 10 years experience in software development, project management and software testing. He’s worked in various fields of IT development in Australia, Britain and the USA and occasionally he learned something along the way. Now he lives on the banks of the Swan River in Perth, Western Australia, and he publishes the odd guide to help aspiring IT professionals. Nick’s website can be found at www.nickjenkins.net.
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