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Negotiating with Stakeholders

Meeting Discussion Talking Sharing Ideas ConceptOne of the toughest aspects of being a product manager or a business analyst is to get people to agree.  Especially when they have different wants,  ideas and opinions on the features the product must have.  Negotiating with our stakeholders is a must.

Of course, part of our job as a product manager or a business analyst is to figure out the needs of our stakeholders.  Not just their wants, but needs.  If you have many stakeholders, this can be a challenge to figure out and to get agreement among all of the stakeholders.

There is an awesome book, Getting to Yes, that offers many suggestions on how to get agreement across various groups.  This book outlines principled negotiation, which is boiled down to these four points:

  1. People – Separate the people from the problem
  2. Interests – Focus on interests, not positions
  3. Options – Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do
  4. Criteria – Insist that the result be based on some objective standard

As people, we are emotional beings.  We get wrapped up in what we think we want and/or need, to the point that we won’t (or can’t) listen to other thoughts and ideas.  Some of us are highly competitive, thus we take a win or lose position. Our ego becomes involved.  The first point is to separate the people from the problem, to make solving the problem disassociated with the people involved.

The second point is to focus on interests and not on positions.  Positions are what is stated.  Interests are the need behind the positions.  To be successful in negotiations, we much understand the interests, those true needs.

With negotiations, it is often difficult to come to a solution agreeable to all parties in the stress and pressure of the moment.  The third point suggests brainstorming a number of options before the meeting in order to ease the pressure.  Then use the various options as a starting point to reach a final agreement.

The final point is useful in those times when one stakeholder becomes stubborn and insists it is their way or the highway.  This point suggests on using a fair standard to reach an agreement.  A fair standard could be an expert opinion or custom.  This is using objective criteria to help make the best solution for all parties.

I obviously cannot go into all of the details and information about this book in a blog.   I encourage you to read the book for more information.  Personally, principled negotiation has helped me many time on projects, working to get the best answer for the group at large.  Hence I hope it helps you as well.

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