What strategies have you used to cushion the blow when saying “no” to projects?

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CIO, 5,001 - 10,000 employees
When you tell someone they can't do something, they get incredibly creative about doing it. So you need to be really careful about what you just say no to because by saying no, you might make it worse for yourself down the line. But it’s about having real relationships and conversations with your peers. You have to ensure that you also understand what's going on a level or two below you in those relationships, because you can say all the right things and if your team isn't doing it beneath you, it's not real.
CIO Strategic Advisor in Services (non-Government), 2 - 10 employees
There is a perception that people can't do things without IT, but the reality is that they can, and even more so as time goes on. I've done this before in my career where I thought IT was the top of the pyramid, and that's absolutely not the case. That goes back several years, but to this day I still see IT leaders that think, "Well, they're going to go do whatever they're going to do. But at the end of the day, they're coming back to me. IT will be that central organization. We'll take care of that." That's not true.

So you have to think about how it affects that command and control, but you also have to remember that "no" is the mother of all innovation. If you look over the history of the world, some of the most innovative and long-standing inventions have come during periods of downturn. During the Great Depression, the world wars, or plagues, we have found really creative solutions to problems. And I think that also plays into IT.
CEO in Software, 11 - 50 employees
We get what we ask for. In most cases, when you come across someone in the IT or engineering organization who says, "Well, that's not in my work plan for the year," that’s because they got the message from senior management that that's what's important. They don’t see innovating, or using the constraints to build something different—even though it wasn't technically asked for—as a way to win points and make friends with leadership.
CEO in Services (non-Government), Self-employed
Situationally dependent. Sometimes it's impossible to say no. In that case I try to say "yes if" rather than no outright and provide specific criteria to be met. Clearly in some cases knowing fully well they might be impossible to meet. And when it is an absolute No I usually say "I've tried every possible way to give you what you want but my hands are tied by ____ " and provide a concrete reason. And then I ask if they can see a way around the obstacle maybe we can try again.

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CTO in Software, 201 - 500 employees
Without a doubt - Technical Debt! It's a ball and chain that creates an ever increasing drag on any organization, stifles innovation, and prevents transformation.
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