Collaborative project sales and implementation
Many businesses implement their IT projects with the help of external parties such as consulting or software firms. In these projects, the eventual outcome – success or failure – depends critically on the relationship between the business (the customer) and the external party (the vendor). At one extreme, the relationship could be almost adversarial – which happens quite often. At the other, it could be collaborative – which happens not often enough. A recent paper entitled: A negotiation approach to project sales and implementation, published in the Project Management Journal provides a framework to support and enhance the latter approach. In this post I review the paper from a practical perspective , asking the question, “Does the paper offer any insights or ideas of immediate value to a practising project manager?”.
The short answer is a qualified, “Yes”. Read on for more.
The authors contend that project related negotiations typically suffer from the following shortcomings:
Negotiations between the customer and vendor, which take place at various stages of the project, are typically “local” – i.e. they’re made in isolation, without much regard to possible consequences on subsequent phases of the project.
The parties approach each of these local negotiations with only their own interests in mind, leading to a win-lose or distributive approach wherein one party gains at the expense of the other.
People involved in the discussions are typically not trained negotiators. Consequently they approach the negotiations in an unsystematic manner.
To overcome these shortcomings the authors suggest the following:
A project be viewed as a continuous process of joint decision-making that lasts through the project. The operative words are the italicised ones – emphasising that optimal outcomes can only be achieved through:
a project-wide view as opposed to a local one and,
a win-win or integrative approach to negotiations.
The discipline of negotiation analysis be used to analyse and prepare for negotiations.
Negotiation analysis combines techniques from game theory, decision analysis and behavioural decision analysis . Additionally, negotiation analysis also includes subjective information, such as perceptions etc., that do not have analytical backing. It also acknowledges that negotiations often end up leaving both parties with sub-optimal (or inefficient) outcomes. This essentially because the negotiating parties do not exchange information that would enable them to reach efficient agreements – i.e. the parties do not collaborate. The goal of negotiation analysis is to improve collaborative (or joint) decision making to the benefit of all parties involved.
A large part of the paper is devoted to discussing the authors’ conceptual framework for project negotiations. I suspect many practising project managers will find the treatment a tad theoretical and somewhat idealised. That said, the authors do make practical suggestions on how a qualitative application of negotiation analysis can assist in managing project negotiations. I found the paper interesting, and recommend it to practitioners, if only for the suggestions it offers in improving ad-hoc approaches to project negotiations.
Kujala, J., Murtoaro, J. and Artto, K., A Negotiation Approach to Project Sales and Implementation, Project Management Journal, 38 (4), 33-44(2007).