Advancing Design by Negotiating on the Merits


Designing new offerings requires excellent negotiation skills and possession of vital Design Quality Criteria information. By aligning strategy, context and implementation, designers might apply "Negotiating on the Merits," to more successful negotiations with key stakeholders.

By nature, designing products that are incrementally innovative is simpler than designing breakthrough offerings, as is the required negotiation approach. Roger Fisher, from Harvard Law School and director of the Harvard Negotiation Project, proposed the following framework for negotiating on the merits:

1) Separate the people from the problem,
2) Focus on interests, not positions,
3) Before deciding what to do, generate a variety of possibilities,
4) Insist that the results are based on some objective standard,
5) BATNA - Know the Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement.

The following describes what a negotiation process could look like for incremental as well as breakthrough innovative offerings:

Separate the people from the problem.

In well-functioning organizations, everybody is professional and on the same team, and problems can still arise due to misunderstandings. In incremental innovation, the participants may not have the same information available to evaluate an opportunity's potential for creating and capturing value. Questions to explore would be concerning the level and distribution of risk and reward. For breakthrough innovation, the objective is to find out what questions to ask at all. Information may not be readily available, and participants will have to engage in information gathering.

Focus on interests, not positions.

Everyone is interested in a sustained, profitable business as a whole; however, through working daily in isolated silos, may have a limited perspective as to their role in the overall context of the project. In incremental innovation, participants clarify their interests and alignment, yet, when dealing with breakthrough innovation, it may be beneficial to explore new alignments of interests and activities and perhaps even new stakeholders.

Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do.

If one has only one solution, there is no way of knowing how good it is, therefore, reframing the opportunity and generating multiple viable options provides a stronger sense of the pros and cons of the individual opportunities. This reframing aids in synthesizing an even better opportunity and clarifying priorities, synergy and tradeoffs. In incremental innovation, exploration focuses on the structure, performance and expression of the offering, while for breakthrough innovation, the focus is on social/human factors and innovation.

Insist that the results are based on some objective standard.

Although everyone can have the right information, understand the opportunity and align their efforts, they may still not have a clear overview of what a new opportunity will require of and how it will affect them personally. Are the resources, schedule, expectations, effort, reward and risk fairly distributed across stakeholders? What kind of future opportunities open up from this venture? With incremental innovation there will be a history of what is considered fair, which can be referred to, whereas, with breakthrough innovation, core values and industry accepted criteria may act as guidelines.

BATNA -- Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.

Whether decisions are made collectively or by a leader, no one can be made to wholeheartedly advance an opportunity they do not find to be fair and in their own best interest. Participants confronted with both incremental and breakthrough innovation will examine other short and long-term alternatives, evaluate opportunity costs and may vote with their feet if the new venture falls short. If these costs prove too great for the organization, management may be wise to examine other options.

As illustrated, "Negotiating on the Merits" fits well with design innovation negotiations and could reduce ambiguity and the resulting frustrations so often seen in negotiations. Simply approaching a negotiation as a collaboration, rather than a battle of wills, can create tremendous value in and of itself.