by Alan S. Koch, PMP, CSM, Certified ITIL Expert:

Note: This is Part 2 of a 2-part series on estimating and negotiating project constraints.  In part 1 we discussed how to estimate the cost and schedule of a seemingly non-negotiable project. Now in part 2, we will discuss what to do if those estimates are not in line with the project constraints you were given.

Once you complete your time and cost estimates, if they are not in line with the initial project constraints, then there is bad news and there is good news. The bad news is that you must go back to your sponsor to renegotiate the project constraints. The good news is that you have the information that you and your sponsor need to figure out how to make the project successful!

The question about whether the project can succeed given the initial constraints is no longer a matter of your opinion versus your sponsor’s opinion. You are now coming to the table with the best available data. After your sponsor gains confidence in your data, renegotiating the project will simply be a matter of adjusting the project scope, schedule target and/or budgetary constraints in order to make the puzzle pieces fit.

For most of us, the hard part will be to sell our data to our sponsor. Too many of us have a history of challenged projects that undermines our credibility in the sponsor’s eyes. We must focus on the facts as presented by history.

  • “Why do you have to do all of these things?” can be answered with, “We learned on projects X, Y and Z that if we skip these steps, these bad things happen…”
  • “That shouldn’t take that long!” can be answered with, “That’s how long it took on projects A, B and C.”
  • “Can’t we cut this corner?” can be answered with, “We cut that corner on project Q, and this was the result…”
  • “Why should I believe you this time?” can be answered with, “This time, I am using history as my guide instead of my best guess or the initial rough estimates.”

The key is to avoid discussing opinion, focusing instead on historical fact. And don’t expect that this project will progress any differently than your reference project (unless you do things differently this time, that is).

After you have brought the facts to the table, it is your sponsor’s job to decide what to do with them. He or she has several options, including dropping the project, adjusting the project scope or constraints, or demanding a “death-march.” In the end, such decisions are your sponsor’s to make. By bringing real data to the table, you have done your part. And you have increased the odds of project success immeasurably by doing so.

What can you do to re-negotiate an unrealistic project with a strong sponsor or customer?

Previously published at

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