Time To Say "No" And Time To Say "Yes"

We all know what monster a scope creep can become. We all know that the good project manager should know when and how to say “No” to the attempts of unnecessary scope changes that lead the project to inevitable schedule slippage. But it doesn’t mean that we should say “No” all the time to everybody.

I got involved in a project recently where the official policy of the company was to say “No” to all the customer’s requests. The project management responsibilities were shared between several people but not one of them liked to take responsibility for any decision so it became easier to all of them to say “No” instead of considering the customer’s request.

It was said that meeting the deadline was the most important goal of the project and so it didn’t matter if the result product was pure garbage and wasn’t usable for the customer. No one cared if the product really solved the customer needs as long as we keep the schedule and meet the deadline. Another explanation of why they always said “No” was that the request wasn’t described in the Functional Specification and therefore would not be done.

In fact this behavior is a direct implementation of the Waterfall model. Once the specification was signed absolutely no change could be made to the project. This is ridiculous. In our dynamic age when the business rules and the environment change so often, to stick so tightly to an outdated document is plain stupid. And I think they just have forgotten one of the most important duties of the the project management – to negotiate. You always have limited time and resources but your main goal is to solve the customer’s problem and to make them happy. Who cares if you’ve met the deadline but you provided unusable product?

When discussing the requirements changes with the customer, there are times when you should say “No” but there are more times when you should say “Yes”. You just have to learn how to negotiate and how to make tread-offs, and you always have to look for a win-win situation. It is not impossible. It is just not easy and not every PM can make it. It requires some skills and experience but it can be learned if there is a desire to do that.

Treating the customer like an enemy and always saying “No” is a suicide for the project, for the manager and even for the whole company.

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