Don’t sacrifice your process in negotiations

Negotiation, in the most positive meaning of the word, is an important part of process improvement and management generally. Good negotiation (particularly as defined in Getting to Yes) finds value for everyone: the Service Desk will extend its hours if it’s given extra staff; the Admissions Office’s services will be available 24×7 if there’s a full day of downtime allowed for maintenance over the holidays.

Good negotiation is looking for the things people care most about, and care least about, to find good solutions that benefit all parties. However, you may find there’s one trap: it is very easy for negotiations to weaken or add waste to processes.

Here’s an example:

Alice the Service Desk manager and Bob the change manager are meeting to talk about how the Service Desk can be better informed of future changes. (Last week there was an outage due to a change that wasn’t on the change calendar, and the Service Desk was overwhelmed by calls.) As a result of their meeting, Bob agrees to send out a weekly email to IT operations managers asking them if they have any other changes that haven’t gone through the process.

In this case, Bob is adding an extra step to the process he follows each week (sending a weekly email), adding waste (i.e. non-value-added activity) to his process. It was easy for Bob to commit to doing something in the future; generally people underestimate the work they are committing to do in the future. One could argue that instead Bob and perhaps Alice should talk directly with the operations managers about why their staff aren’t submitting change requests–but that type of confrontation can be painful, and committing to a process change is easier and feels like you have accomplished something.

Now picture this scenario playing out over and over: the purchasing process is changed so the CIO must sign off on purchases, because one time the process was not followed; the Financial Aid process must be run twice in two different environments to verify the results match; the data center manager must be supervised by a systems administrator when installing media. Every time there’s an issue, more non-value-added activity is added to the process.

When you’re negotiating and it looks like you need to compromise the process, instead redirect to better understanding the problem. There may be another root cause: new employees not being trained on the change management process, for example. Watch out for when people suggest adding non-value-added activities to your process–it’s easy not to notice!