Article - Negotiations: How to Talk Your Boss into Doing the Unthinkable


A couple of years ago I was commissioned by a product company to run a crucial project of theirs, the delivery of the next version of their flagship product. The project has been hindered by problems from the very inception: too much scope to deliver ("customers demand ALL of these features!), not enough time ("we absolutely MUST deliver this by the start of the Christmas season!") and lack of resources ("you need HOW many people?!").

I started this endeavor by sitting together with the product managers and a couple of senior architects in order to prioritize the features and to determine the proverbial "low hanging fruits" that were of utmost importance but could be delivered relatively easy. At the end of the day we were able to cut or postpone some of the "nice to have" but cumbersome scope items. However we still only had a 50% chance of hitting the required deadline. So, I gathered my documents and walked into the office of the CEO ...

Me: Listen, our chances of finishing project on-time are still pretty slim. We are hovering somewhere around 30% probability of hitting the deadline. We need to look for some additional degrees of freedom ...

CEO: And what are you proposing?

Me: Well, we went through the list of potential options to obtain additional degrees of freedom: adding more people, replacing inexperienced experts with the experienced ones, cutting some additional scope, etc., but received an unequivocal "no" to each one of our requests ...

CEO: Well, I guess you guys will just have to roll up your sleeves and work harder!

Me: Actually, there is another option that can give us some wiggle room. You know how we conduct company-wide meetings every Tuesday? (Note: The company had a long-standing tradition of running "all hands on deck" meetings on a weekly base. The gatherings lasted for 2-2.5 hours each time and largely consisted of  employees passing on teddy bears as prizes and thanking each other for being especially helpful last week. The management was convinced that such gatherings improved communications and employee morale, thus treating these events as sacred cows.)

CEO: Yes ...

Me: Would you mind exempting my team from these meetings? We think it can free up ...

CEO: (angrily interrupting) Absolutely not! You see, you are new to this place and just don't understand this!! These meetings are the cornerstone of our company culture!!! I am appalled by your suggestion!!!!

Me: (walking to the white board) Let us crunch some numbers. I have 20 people on my team and the project is scheduled to run for the next 12 months, right? So here is what we get:

20 people X 3hours/week X 4.5 weeks/month X 12 months = 3,240 man-hours

3,240 man-hours = 18.4 man-months

CEO; Wait a second! Are you saying 20 people attending these meetings "waste" close to 20 man-months per year?

Me: Yup!

CEO: But I have 200 people working for this company! This means ...

Me: (smiling) I will let you do the math, while I tell me team that they are exempt from going to the meetings for the next year!


About the Author

Jamal Moustafaev, MBA, PMP – president and founder of Thinktank Consulting is an internationally acclaimed expert and speaker in the areas of project/portfolio management, scope definition, process improvement and corporate training. Jamal Moustafaev has done work for private-sector companies and government organizations in Canada, US, Asia, Europe and Middle East.  Read Jamal’s Blog @

Jamal is an author of two very popular books: Delivering Exceptional Project Results: A Practical Guide to Project Selection, Scoping, Estimation and Management and Project Scope Management: A Practical Guide to Requirements for Engineering, Product, Construction, IT and Enterprise Projects.

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