Negotiations & Project Work Programming

Dear Management Doctor:

We are a relatively large County Planning Agency that has had a fair amount of turnover recently and are in the process of being sure our staff is adequately trained. Two areas that both new and existing staff could use some technical assistance in is Project Negotiations Skills and Major Project Work Programming tips and tools. We are hoping that you or other planning agencies may have some recommendations for consultants that you have had a good experience with on these topics.

Thanks for your help.

John Euphrat
San Luis Obispo County

Dear John,

You have raised two separate issues as follows:

  1. Major Project Work Programming
    I partially answered this question in a previous Management Doctor question. You can see this under the topic "Project Management." Much to my surprise, this generated only one response from a reader. Maybe we will have better luck this time. My guess is the reason I had so little response is that very few planning departments are doing this project management. Like most consultants, I do project management for our projects all the time. We keep it simple.
    • Know what the client wants or at least think they want.
    • Know the timelines, monitor your progress as you go and meet the timelines.
    • Know the budget and resources available for the project.
    • Segment the work into smaller pieces that can be delegated and monitored. There are a lot of books, one- or two-day short courses on the market and probably even courses on the Internet. I haven't previewed it but Video Arts has a 25-minute video, "Project Management, Leading a Project Team," phone 1-800-861-4246.
  2. Project Negotiation Skills
    Good negotiations requires good interpersonal skills, so I would start by working on those skills. Again, there are a lot of one- or two-day short courses and books. Video Arts has a 31-minute film, "Negotiating: Tying The Knot." There is also a lot of selling in negotiating so the books on sales can be helpful. My favorite is "You Can Negotiate Anything," by Herb Cohen, Bantam Books. Finally, many communities have non-profit mediation schools for the more serious staff.

Come on readers — share your wisdom.

The Management Doctor


Reader Response

Here's a couple of thoughts on your Project Management/Project Negotiations question...

Project Management

We've put together a program now that is similar to your bullet list... and through three major projects—it works. We're a small shop, and time management is critical.

  • Find out when the client wants to break ground. Knowing their expectations can help. It also helps to know if they have "drop dead" dates that must be achieved. We have one project that failure to obtain a permit by a specified date results in loss of an expensive option. Obviously, the client must have enough knowledge of agency timelines and planning laws to have "planned ahead."
  • Determine the date the project must be approved ensuring the client has time to meet conditions and obtain initial building permits.
  • Work backwards from that date through your permitting process. Essentially, by starting with (1) "Board/Council approval, Date X," "Published/mailed notice, Date X-14," "Commission Action, Date X-60," and so on, you'll arrive at the "Start Date." If the start date is yesterday or earlier, then either the timeline needs to be adjusted if possible, and the client's expectations need to be extended, or it's just not going to happen.
  • If using a consultant, consider a liquidating damages clause or bonus clause in the contract. We deduct a 1% penalty for each date the consultant is late on a milestone... provided the consultant has had control over the milestone period.
  • Make staff and particularly internal reviewing agencies accountable for meeting deadlines. This is probably the biggest hold up I've personally seen. The Administrative Draft comes in and the jurisdiction does not manage when it's supposed to be back to the consultant.

APA also has some good project management books, but frankly, this topic is so common you can check your local library. I'll bet there's at least two books in your Department's planning library.

Project Negotiation

In training our staff, we counsel the planners to explain issues in one of two perspectives:

  1. This is a code requirement and we don't have the ability to modify or waive it at staff level. Let's just agree to disagree and you can explain your view to the Planning Commission; or
  2. With this requirement we are trying to accomplish "Objective X." Do you have another way we can accomplish the same objective?

In both cases, it helps the applicant understand the range of authority we have at the staff level. Since undertaking this approach about a year ago, only one Director Determination/Interpretation has been appealed and the Planning Commission has overridden staff only twice in more than 50 projects and hundreds of condition recommendations.

Eric Jay Toll
Mariposa County

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