Attributes of Executives

23.1 Attributes of Executives

One issue in estimate negotiations arises from the personalities of the people doing the negotiating. Technical staff tend to be introverts. About three-quarters of technical staff are introverts, compared with about one-third of the general population (McConnell 2004b). Most technical workers get along with other people fine, but the realm of challenging social interactions is just not their strong suit.

Software negotiations typically occur between technical staff and executives or between technical staff and marketers. Gerald Weinberg points out that marketers and executives are often at least ten years older and more highly placed in the organization than technical staff. Plus, negotiation is part of their job descriptions (Weinberg 1994). In other words, estimate negotiations tend to be between introverted technical staff and seasoned professional negotiators.

With this as background, it's little wonder that technical staff look forward to software estimate negotiations about as much as they look forward to getting their wisdom teeth removed without anesthesia. The factors that make negotiating with executives challenging are not likely to change any time soon. Figure lists some of these factors.

Figure: Ten Key Characteristics of Software Executives


Executives will always ask for what they want.


Executives will always probe to get what they want if they don't get it initially.


Executives will tend to probe until they discover your point of discomfort.


Executives won't always know what's possible, but they will know what would be good for the business if it were possible.


Executives will be assertive. That's how they got to be executives in the first place.


Executives will respect you when you are being assertive. In fact, they assume you will be assertive if you need to be.


Executives want you to operate with the organization's best interests at heart.


Executives will want to explore lots of variations to maximize business value.


Executives know things about the business, the market, and the company that you don't know, and they may prioritize your project's goals differently than you would.


Executives will always want visibility and commitment early (which would indeed have great business value, if it were possible).

For the most part, executives have these characteristics because it's healthy for the organization for them to have them. Don't expect these characteristics to change!

Tip #110 

Understand that executives are assertive by nature and by job description, and plan your estimation discussions accordingly.

It might well be that estimate negotiations are a part of your job that you don't like much, but nobody ever said you get to enjoy 100% of your job. I've found that simply recognizing that negotiating is not my favorite activity helps me get through the negotiations more constructively.

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