Negotiating Achievable Commitments

Karl Wiegers
Jun 15, 2019 · 6 min read
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Making Commitments

A commitment is a promise one person makes to another. The commitment might involve delivering a specific work product or performing a particular service by a specified time and at a certain level of quality. A project involves many commitments between customers, managers, and team members. The project manager makes both individual commitments and commitments on behalf of the whole team. The PM also requests commitments from team members and perhaps from external stakeholders. Some projects have at least one formal commitment: a legally binding contract.

Negotiating Commitments

Negotiations are in order whenever there’s a gap between the outcomes stakeholders demand and your best prediction of the future as embodied in project estimates. Principled negotiation, a method to strive for mutually acceptable agreements, involves the following four key precepts (see Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, William L. Ury, and Bruce Patton).

Modifying Commitments

Project commitments can fall by the wayside if the requirements turn out to be technically unfeasible or especially challenging, if customers change them, or if the stated requirements were just the tip of the real requirements iceberg. Project stakeholders must alter their expectations and commitments in the face of evolving information.

  • Can delivery be delayed? By how long?
  • Can you move more developers onto the project?
  • Must quality be compromised to meet other, higher-priority constraints?

Your Commitment Ethic

I once managed a good developer who always said “yes” when I asked her to take on a new responsibility. However, she often didn’t deliver on schedule. There was simply no way she could complete everything she’d agreed to do, despite her best intentions and hard work.

  • “We can’t get that feature into this iteration and still finish on schedule. Can it wait until the next iteration, or would you rather defer something else?”
  • “I can do that, but it’s not as high on the priority list as my other obligations. Let me suggest someone else who might be able to help you more quickly than I can.”

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Karl Wiegers

Written by

I’ve written on software development and management, consulting, self-help, chemistry, military history, and a mystery novel. More info at karlwiegers.com.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +687K people. Follow to join our community.

Karl Wiegers

Written by

I’ve written on software development and management, consulting, self-help, chemistry, military history, and a mystery novel. More info at karlwiegers.com.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +687K people. Follow to join our community.

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