How to say "No!"

by Ron Rosenhead

I have often been asked by a project manager how to say no. Sometimes the demands on the manager are (in their words) so unrealistic or unachievable that they face a real dilemma; how to say no.

I have often advised those on project management training courses that rather than say a direct no (which many would like to do) they ought to use some of the tools within project management to help them.

So, rather than say no, what can a project manager do or say? Some suggestions are given below. However, words of caution; if you use some of the suggestions you will need to use a wide range of personal skills. These include areas such as influencing, being assertive, questioning and listening being aware of organisational politics. Or, maybe it is simply standing up for being right (in your mind).

As one person suggested, the real skill is dealing with the fallout from how you say no! So, revise and practice those soft skills….

  1. when the project scope is challenged – use the system! Ensure that the person who requests the change or you (the project manager) goes through the appropriate change control process. If you don’t have one then get one, very quickly. Do not action any changes until the full ramification of changes have been identified, agreed and formally signed off

  2. when the budget looks likely to be exceeded – as above or by reducing the overall scope of the project.

  3. when you get another project on top of your exhausting list – (an all to often occurrence according to people I meet) ensure you know which project has what priority. You may need to argue that the resources you have do not match the priorities given which means you will need good skills in developing resource charts and plans.

  4. when the business case makes no financial sense but someone (a key stakeholder or senior manager)is pushing to get the project started – develop a strong well argued business case to gain formal approval before moving the project forward. Sometimes you have to accept that politics will win over however cover yourself by putting a very strong case against the project

  5. when the business benefits are compromised – the project manager must point this out to the sponsor or project owner suggesting a way forward including abandoning the project (if appropriate). Include in the risk register and submit this for formal sign off by senior managers

  6. when there is no clear sponsor/owner – the project manager must seek one or abandon the project. Now I could say, if there is no owner then there is no one to object! However, good practice shows where there is clarity of ownership projects have a much better chance of succeeding

  7. when there is no clear monitoring and control process, or the monitoring and control process is not as strong as it should be- this should clearly be identified as a project risk and fed back to the sponsor/executive

These are some areas identified on some of our project management training events and my response. Do send me your ideas on how to say no……


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