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:
- Budget Shenanigans: Swaps
- When projects run over budget, managers face a temptation to use creative accounting to address the
problem. The budget swap is one technique for making ends meet. It distorts organizational data, and
it's just plain unethical.
- When Others Curry Favor
- When peers curry favor with the boss, many of us feel contempt, an urge for revenge, anger, or worse.
Trying to stop those who curry favor probably isn't an effective strategy. What is?
- When You Aren't Supposed to Say: III
- Most of us have information that's "company confidential," or even more sensitive than that.
Sometimes people who want to know what we know try to suspend our ability to think critically. Here
are some of their techniques.
- Some Truths About Lies: IV
- Extended interviews provide multiple opportunities for detecting lies by people intent on deception.
Here's Part IV of our little collection of lie detection techniques.
- Counterproductive Knowledge Workplace Behavior: II
- In knowledge-oriented workplaces, counterproductive work behavior takes on forms that can be rare or
unseen in other workplaces. Here's Part II of a growing catalog.
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- And on June 26: Appearance Antipatterns: I
- Appearances can be deceiving. Just as we can misinterpret the actions and motivations of others, others can misinterpret our own actions and motivations. But we can take steps to limit these effects. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
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