Andrew stopped outside Jane's door and knocked on the doorframe. Her back to him, studying her screen, Jane must have somehow recognized Andrew's knock. "Andrew," she said without looking up. "One sec."
She half-stood, still holding the mouse and staring at the screen. Then she clicked, stood up straight, and turned to face him. "OK," she said. "Where to?"
"Courtyard," Andrew replied.
They walked silently to the elevator, rode it to One, crossed the lobby, went out into the brilliantly sunny courtyard, and sat down at an empty umbrella table. Jane still had her coffee mug in hand. She sipped.
"So…" she prompted him.
"This contract bothers me," Andrew began. "I'm a project manager. I don't know much about negotiating contracts. I'll probably do something dumb, but I'm not sure that's what bothers me."
Managing a project for which
you negotiated contracts
presents a conflict of interestAndrew wasn't sure, but Jane was. She'd been there. "Right," she began. "The real problem is that project managers shouldn't be negotiating contracts. It's a conflict of interest."
Jane's insight isn't widely shared, but she does raise a critical point. Project managers who must monitor day-to-day performance of contracts they personally negotiated have a potential conflict of interest. Here are some of the ways this conflict can appear.
- Vulnerability to time pressure
- Especially if negotiations drag on, the organization might apply pressure to the negotiator to bring negotiations to completion. For those project managers who are also the negotiators, this pressure can lead to a temptation to yield, based on a belief that we can "close the gap" through cleverness during project execution.
- When project manager and negotiator are separate people, the project manager can better represent the project's interests, insisting on what is actually required, and compelling more creative negotiation.
- Hidden cost transfers
- During negotiations, it's common to entice the vendor with the promise of work on future projects. But when the negotiator manages both the project at hand and the future project, this tactic amounts to a transfer of resources between the two projects. It distorts the costs of both, invalidating the metrics used to manage projects.
- When the negotiator and project managers are independent, each contract is more likely to stand on its own.
- Concealed contract flaws
- When there are flaws in the contract that become evident only during execution, and when the negotiator has gone on to become the project manager, it is the project manager who must report defects in the contract that he or she produced. It can be tempting to find a way to avoid reporting a flaw of one's own creation.
- When the negotiator and project manager are independent, contract flaws are more likely to be reported, and remedial action is possible.
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More articles on Ethics at Work:
- When You Aren't Supposed to Say: I
- Most of us have information that's "company confidential," or possibly even more sensitive
than that. When we encounter individuals who try to extract that information, we're better able to protect
it if we know their techniques.
- Some Truths About Lies: III
- Detecting lies by someone intent on misrepresentation is an important skill for executives, managers,
project managers, and just about anyone involved in knowledge-oriented organizations. Here's Part III
of our little collection of lie detection techniques.
- More Things I've Learned Along the Way
- Some entries from my personal collection of useful insights.
- The Costanza Matrix
- The Seinfeld character "George Costanza" is famous for having said, "It's not a lie if
you believe it." What if you don't believe it and it's true? Some musings.
- On Reporting Workplace Malpractice
- Reporting workplace malpractice can be the right thing to do. And it's often career-dangerous. Here
are some risks to ponder before reporting what you know.
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