Friday, March 18, 2011

Getting to Yes

This is not just any book about negotiation; it’s a mandatory book on the topic. And it’s relevant to Project Management since negotiation is a necessary skill for Project Managers. Project Managers have to negotiate resources with functional managers, the scope of the project that they can fit in a fixed delivery date, requirements that are nice to have but not really must haves, contracts with subcontractors and suppliers, sponsor support and everything else that goes on in a project.

The process
This book is about principled negotiation and it has its own process to go about it. In short, the process has 4 steps:
  • Separate the people from the problem
  • Focus on interests, not positions
  • Invent options for mutual gain
  • Insist on using objective criteria
This is not a natural process, when we think of all the things we negotiate on a day to day basis. It’s much easier to state our wants and just hope that the others involved agree to it - and it works for supermarkets, they hope you find the price on cereals fair and buy them, right? But the fact is that you have a lot to gain to go with this process (when it's worth the effort) because:
  • It’s fair
  • Both sides win
  • The pot being negotiated is usually increased by the process
  • Relationships are taken into consideration and separated from the problem
  • It allows you to grow a reputation as a fair negotiator, someone to trust
Interests and positions

Some things to keep in mind about the process include going after interests instead of positions. Interests and positions are beautifully exposed on the story of the sisters and the orange. The telegraphic version goes like this: there were these sisters who wanted an orange so they split the orange they had in half and each got an half of the orange. One sister squeezed it, threw away the peal and drank an orange juice and the other just wanted the orange zest, threw the rest away, and baked an orange cake. This is the difference between positions (both sisters wanted an orange) and interests or the root cause for taking that position (one needed the orange zest and the other the juice).
Usually one interest can raise several positions so it’s very useful to go after interests so you can solve the problem without compromising what each part really needs. It’s the separation between wants and needs.

Story telling
This book includes several real and fictional stories as good examples of negotiation. The Camp David Accords is the first that pops to mind as it was featured on the previous post: It's all about interests, not positions but here are others.
Another wonderful story to illustrate this negotiation process is a controlled rent negotiation. This one is very rich on lessons learned and it perfectly shows how difficult it is to master some of the requirements to negotiation, like separating people from the problem – can you separate people from the problem when a discussion heats up and gets personal?

Tools and techniques
Some tools and techniques are also included. Some examples are:
  • Generating creative options
  • A brainstorming guide
  • Problem solving using the circle chart
  • One text procedure
These will come in handy occasionally but it’s nice to have a place where to check exactly how to do things. I don’t think I will forget a brainstorming session where I was once in. Someone got the role of “idea evaluator” so as ideas popped up he would decide on the fly if it would get registered or not. You can imagine that this brainstorming session was not a huge success.

This book is a must read to anyone who has already taken the first steps into Project Management. After the first avalanche of new stuff one learns about Project Management, negotiation is one of the topics that must be familiar to the Project Manager as he will make an intensive use of it, either being aware or not.
This book is simple (there are no rocket science concepts), it’s written by people with a vast experience on negotiation and it’s relevant to Project Managers. Because all this, “Getting to yes” is a must read to every Project Manager.

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