Meet Jim. Jim is the development manager in charge of a very important software project. He and his team of developers are responsible for seeing this high priority project to completion. After a few months of development, the sales team asks for a few changes to the application. Jim promptly reorganizes his team and their priorities to incorporate the new requests. Later that month, the quality assurance team requests additional time to retest various functional areas. Jim sits down with the QA group and works out a plan to provide them with more time. A few weeks later, Jim's team approaches him voicing some concern about some of the coding and requests that it be refactored. Jim immediately works with his team to identify the problem areas and redirects their efforts. One month later, the project's deadline is missed and the company looses their sales opportunity. What went wrong? Jim did everything he could do, right? Almost. Unfortunately, their was one key word missing from Jim's vocabulary... the word "no."
In the previous story, Jim is a fictional character but his problem is all too pervasive within software development projects. People at their core are loving, nurturing beings. They want to help others and make them feel wanted. In the world of business, keeping these needs in perspective can be challenging. This can manifest itself in a need for accommodation. If someone requests more resources, time, or functionality, there is a deep yearning from within to satisfy that need. Sometimes that yearning can create a haze around the larger picture and cause people to get lost in the details. Do not react by shutting out these feelings; they are a vital part of one's humanity.
Jim ran into many dilemmas during his project. As each problem arose, he felt the urge to take action and solve problems. This is an excellent attitude, but the fear of disappointing others caused him to accidentally become a "yes man." As people brought problems to his doorstep, he felt too much guilt to utter the words no, can't, or won't. In doing this, Jim unintentionally eliminated too much of his vocabulary. There are many words which help find a happy medium, such as: limit, part, later, strategy, timing, clarity, and risk. Additionally, there is nothing wrong with the word "no" as long as it is accompanied by mindful reasoning and the opportunity for others to offer their insight.
When saying the word "no," be prepared to defend the reasons why. People will loose faith in someone who wields this power without proper justification. The word "no" should never become commonplace. If at any point a "no" becomes unclear, communicate that to others and don't be afraid to ask for more time to re-evaluate. Additionally, be prepared to repeatedly defend an opinion, but keep a thoughtful mind to new insight. As counter arguments are made be aware of trumping statements. These are undefendable words such as "increased speed," "lower costs," or "quality." Do no let others use these words to unbalance a discussion. Juggling the priorities of a project is never easy, but excluding parts of one's vocabulary is not the answer.
Tony Blair said it best when he said, "The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes."