Working with Stakeholders Who Won’t Take No for an Answer

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Do your stakeholders have a hard time accepting a “no” from the team? Or put another way, does your team have a hard time telling the stakeholders that what they want is impossible? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, you are not alone.

I’ve found two techniques useful in communicating a “no” so that stakeholders listen and understand.

First, the team should establish a track record of planning projects accurately and meeting most commitments.

You don’t need to be perfect, but if a team meets most of its commitments, the business is more likely to listen when the team says something is impossible.

Second, when telling a stakeholder that a proposed date cannot be achieved, offer alternatives. For example,

  • By what date could the functionality be delivered?
  • Are there especially challenging requirements that could be relaxed to meet the deadline?
  • What could be done to make the date feasible? More people? Stop using the team for second-level support?

Stakeholders often want more than can be delivered by some date. This shouldn’t be the team’s problem alone.

Wanting more than can be delivered must be viewed as a shared problem. A solution can only be found by the business and team working together.

When stakeholders trust the team’s commitment and work together with team members to find solutions, they all succeed with agile.

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