By: Rich Kramarik
We are often
told that we just need to say no to a few things so that we don't get ourselves
over committed. After all, we cannot do everything our customers ask us, and we
cannot go after every possible market. Some folks will ask if you are going to
teach the team how to say no. Because if you don’t say no, you just keep adding
more work to an already overloaded plan. Well, we just say no to that question.
No, we are not going to teach people how to say no. we don't think that is the
question. Instead, we see the need to learn how to make choices.
To make a
really simpleminded analogy, remember as a kid when you asked your mom or dad
for an ice cream cone. Then, as they were about to buy it you asked for a milk
shake too. They might have said, we only have money for one, so you can have one
or the other, not both. That may have been one of your first choices in life.
That lesson was very valuable in that it was going to be an important principle
in your business career.
Let's get a
little more real. There isn't a day that goes by that you aren't asked to do
something that was not in your plan for the day. Most are trivial and you can
fit them into your daily schedule. Some represent a major commitment of time and
resources and will impact other activities if you try to fit them in. The wisdom
that is needed is to know the difference between requests that are trivial and
those that are not. So, how does one gain this wisdom?
experience comes understanding of what it takes to perform many of the tasks
related to your job. So when you are asked to perform a familiar task, you can
easily give a commitment as to when it will be done. However, when you get a
request that you are not sure about, you should do some work to figure out what
it takes before you make a commitment. In this process, talk to people who have
the experience in order to get advice on what is required and how to perform the
tasks needed to fulfill the commitment. You are just asking for trouble when you
commit to something that you don't really understand. The people who fulfill
commitments consistently are usually the ones who have really done their
homework and who make sure that their plan is on track by frequently checking on
progress. Once getting advice, lay out a plan and determine if you have the
resources and time to execute the plan. Once you have this kind of information,
you can then make a thoughtful response to the person requesting your
commitment. Your wisdom is expanded every time you make and fulfill a
commitment, and your professional judgment is improved as a result. Your quest
is to become a person who people say can be relied upon to get things done. The
ultimate in professional recognition comes from being able to consistently meet
trivial requests can overcome you too. As Dirty Harry said, "a man has to know
his limitations." It is important to keep track of what you have committed to.
Allocate your time as if it is a valued resource. Knowing your limitations in
this case means knowing where you are spending your time and if you are spending
it on the right things. Keep a calendar and a project schedule. If you know
where you are going to spend your time then you can do a much better job of
making new commitments. People get into trouble if they are out of control with
respect to allocating their time. People who can be relied upon, do a great job
of planning their time and take the time for planning.
this process of making commitments gets a lot tougher though. What do you do
when you cannot get something done in the timeframe that is being requested
without impacting another commitment that was previously made? Knowing how to
effectively deal with this situation is the key to being a responsive and
successful person or team.
with this dilemma, there are several things one must consider and resolve before
giving a response.
Make sure you know what it takes to successfully execute the
request. This includes people with the right skill as well as the capital
resources. Ensure that you have all your dependencies lined up. As with any
commitment, know what it takes to deliver it because you may have to
actually do it.
With the understanding of what it takes to fulfill the
request, suggest possible alternatives to accomplish it. It really comes
down to a few general possibilities:
Determine when the request could be fulfilled with your
current resources. A request can be satisfied once the right people
become available. It’s just a matter of time.
Search for innovative ways to accomplish the request, by
thinking through real possibilities that would get the required results.
Then create a new plan.
Negotiate phased delivery that delivers some key part of
the deliverable early, but delays full delivery until resources can be
freed to compete this request. This is the classic win-win or
Ask for additional resources to accomplish the request,
but make sure you can really execute if you get them. The resources can
come from one of many sources like higher management, the requestor, or
an interested third party.
Delay some other commitment in order to satisfy the new
request. With this comes the responsibility to manage the impact of the
changed commitment if this alternative is chosen.
Always have the baseline understanding of how you could
fulfill the request within your current resources and without changing other
commitments. This serves to answer the question of when you can get the
request fulfilled. You can fulfill any request. It is always a matter of
when it can be done.
Determine if the request can be fulfilled under any
circumstances. Don't waste a lot of time trying to do something that is
impossible, but be prepared to offer other alternatives that could achieve
the same objective.
With all this
information, you can now engage in making a choice. Depending on the nature of
the impacts of the choice, you can determine what level of management needs to
be involved in making the choice. If the impact is only to commitments you have
made and nobody else will be impacted by the decision, then it’s up to you to
make the choice and manage the implications.
tradeoffs do involve a lot of people however. It is necessary to have the levels
of management that are effected by the decision participate in making the
choice. As with any decision, business factors are weighed and a choice is made.
It is what happens after the decision is made that determines the success of
making a choice. Here are the steps to follow:
Communicate the decision to the various players that are
affected by the decision. If a plan change is being made, then people's work
has to change and new schedules have to be established. Plan changes often
impact marketing, sales, manufacturing, development, test, support,
publications, build, system test or release. This is where the project
managers earn their keep by making sure changes are coordinated.
Inform the requestors that are affected by the decision. If a
commitment has to be changed, then go to the person to whom the commitment
was made and explain the change and why it is being done. In a lot of cases
this may be a customer, and this is a hard thing to do successfully. I
believe it is better to be straightforward and honest with the customer and
work out the impacts, than to miss the commitment later and have a totally
dissatisfied customer who has lost all faith in you. You loose all
credibility if this happens.
Make sure that all the plan changes are made and that the new
plan is being executed.
but harder to execute, any request should come down to a matter of making
choices and dealing with the implications of the decision. Dealing with issues
in a straightforward way is the best policy. Getting the issue escalated to the
right level of management that can make the choice and then marshalling the
resources to manage the impacts is the right way to deal with requests. So, its
not so much about saying yes or no, but a matter of making a thoughtful choice
and communicating to all those effected by it. So when asked to commit to
something that will impact current commitments turn the request into
alternatives and participate in the process of making a choice.
Learning to Make Good Choices Case Study
By: Rich Kramarik
This engineering company builds custom
electronics and control systems that automatically track precision mirrors to
the sun in huge solar power generating “farms” in the western deserts of the
U.S. The company has always engaged in fixed bid contracts with its clients.
Over the years, the mostly “cookie cutter” custom products and services have
satisfied the clients and made good profits for the engineering company.
The CEO of the engineering company came to
us with a problem. He had a new project that required new technology, new
components from new vendors, new requirements for higher sensitivity, and a new
project manager to work with from the power company. The project manager wanted
the customary fixed bid for the new project. The engineering company CEO told
us and the power company that there were too many unknowns to be able to fixed
bid the project. Then on top of that the project schedule and date the new
power generating “farm” needed to go on-line was too short given all the
The engineering company CEO didn’t feel he
could say no to a fixed bid project. He didn’t think he could say no to the
over ambitious project schedules. He didn’t think he could charge the power
company additional fees for the rework required because the new components were
not working as specified. This CEO didn’t know what to do to save this
multi-million dollar two year contract.
We started working with the CEO on
evaluating alternatives. First we discovered that about half of the work in the
project was still the “cookie cutter” flavor. Second, we discovered about a
fourth of the project was work that although the engineering company didn’t know
how long it would take, they thought they could estimate a number that was not
more than 30% off actual. That left only one quarter of the project where
engineering and installation was a total unknown.
We helped the CEO put together several
negotiation stands or positions to help him negotiate a win-win between the
engineering company and the power company.
Fixed bid the half of the
project that was within the engineering company’s past experience and time
and material bid the rest of the project. i.e., each party gives a little
so that they can both win.
Do number one and bid the
quarter of the project that could be as much as 30% higher at a fixed price
Do number two and contract to
return to the client a refund of half of the savings if the additional 30%
is not all used to complete that quarter of the project.
Other alternatives not needed for this example.
The CEO started negotiating and early in
the discussions the power company asked if the engineering company could find a
manufacturing company who could build the hardware for a lower cost than the
company that had been used on older projects. This was a good sign because it
indicated that the client was willing to give and take.
The two companies went back and forth with
new issues and new solutions coming on and leaving the table. In the end the
power company agreed to a later date to put the “farm” on-line, a fixed bid
component, a milestone date at which point the engineering company would be in a
position to fixed bid the remainder of the work in the project and a facility
for the price to be higher than the fixed bid if the engineering company actual
costs were more than 20% above budget. So, in the end the engineering company
got a safety net on profits and the power company contained costs – the
This Program Director in a services company
was in the habit of saying no to peers, his team and the clients. “I’m too
busy” was the usual mantra. The CEO had conversations with him expressing the
CEO’s confusion over why this Director was “too busy” when all his peers were
just as busy and they were getting the work done and not complaining.
We know there are always choices so we sat
down with the Program Director and started exploring the situation. Here is a
list of what we discovered:
delegated because it was “easier to do the work himself than teach someone
to do it.”
He rarely (as in
never) volunteered to help a peer and therefore never got any help from his
He had a team
that included several new employees who had not yet learned all the skills
needed to do their jobs.
He was not making
time to train, or making training available to his new team members.
He was a very
demanding personality type who used aggressive, demanding body language.
He seldom worked
at home or late in the day, but he came in early to get things done in the
“quiet time” before everyone came into the office.
He did not spend
much time talking to the clients. However, he thought he had a good
relationship with the clients.
He rarely planned
his day because “It didn’t add any value because the plan always changes
because of unknowns.”
Whenever, one of
his team had an issue they brought it to his office. He took the problem
and spent what ever time it required to solve and then gave it back to the
And the list went
Let’s look at the choices this Director
Delegate – like
Nike – Just Do It!
Use the golden
rule – you have to give unto others before they will give unto you.
Get the team
trained and they will not be bringing you issues and you will be better able
to delegate to them.
If you don’t
communicate with your clients you are handicapped when it comes to
negotiating with them. Talk to them regularly and they will be more willing
to give you more time, be more tolerant of errors, be more open to your
suggestions and generally more pleased that they are getting your company’s
If our Director makes any one of these four
changes he will see additional time in his schedule to say yes. Choices give
you the opportunity to accomplish more. Our Director is working to implement
all four of these choices. We’re confident that he will find his way to “yes.”
Brought to you by:
Bob De Contreras
RTBA | Cary | Greensboro | Raleigh | Research Triangle Park | North Caroliina
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