Saturday, June 9, 2007


Project objectives are usually negotiable. It’s not always a situation where, as the saying goes, “it’s not for me to reason why but to do and die.”

Most conflicts about objectives occur because of multiple stakeholders. Each stakeholder wants his/her objectives included in the project. If you know it’s not possible, say so! If you don’t, you’ll suffer a thousand deaths.

I know because that’s what happened to me the first time. Fortunately for me, the second time this situation confronted me, a more experienced PM (Project Manager) came to my rescue and taught me the following techniques.

Begin by identifying the disparate objectives. Categorize them by type, purpose, stakeholder, and any other salient attributes, e.g., duration, cost. Most of all assess each objective’s feasibility according to your project constraints. For each project objective, distinguish between what’s being asked as opposed to what’s feasible.

You may find that it’s actually possible to accomplish all the objectives but not within the original constraints. This gives you a good reason to approach your project sponsor or customer, explain the additional objectives and how achieving them will add value. Then ask for their decision. If they want to proceed with all those objectives, request for the additional resources. Either way they know the situation and must live with the consequences of their decision.

If you don’t receive the additional resources and they still insist on all the objectives, you have to let them negotiate with each other. Explain very clearly that you can’t do everything that everybody wants given the constraints you have. Explain, therefore, that some stakeholders will not see their objectives included in the project.

For specifics, try taking these steps:

1. Convene the stakeholders who are most likely to be affected. Let them negotiate with each other. Request them to tell you their decision. If they won’t or can’t, then…

2. Rank the conflicting objectives according to the value that will accrue to the customer or your organization. Select the highest value objectives. If the highest value objective isn’t clear, then…

3. Bring your project sponsor into the situation and request him/her to help the stakeholders resolve their conflict. If that doesn’t work, then…

4. Select the objectives that will satisfy the greatest number of stakeholders. If that doesn’t work, then …

5. Escalate it to your sponsor or superior and request them to make the decision. If that doesn’t work, then…

6. Select the objectives according to their duration (faster wins over slower), difficulty (easier over harder) and simplicity (simple over complex).

Credit for helping me develop some ideas go to Mike D.
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