Project Smart ~ Exploring trends and developments in project management today

Calendar icon
Adobe PDF icon

Delivering the Tough News - Part 1

~ By Brad Egeland

Project manager is showing his customer some documents

Nobody wants to be the one who has to break bad news to anyone. Have you ever had to deliver tough news to a customer on a project? We always want to be seen in a favourable light by the customer - telling them something very negative can definitely taint their view of us as project managers. We may only be the messenger and may have played no part in creating the negative situation that we are reporting on, but it's still not a fun situation to be in no matter what.

I've had to deliver tough news on projects several times, but none as tough as the time I had to go tell my client - who I was working on fifteen separate projects for - that my organisation's CEO was acting fraudulently and had taken his own life as several federal agencies were closing in on him. And I had to convince them that no one other than his wife and the CFO knew about the fraudulent activity. That was the truth. I did it, but it wasn't easy, and it was embarrassing.

How do we prepare to deliver bad news to the project customer? What steps do you go through to prepare yourself if you must deliver really tough news to a client?

For me, the process is basically these four steps…

1. Gather Info

If you must present terrible news to the project client, then at least be accurate and prepared. If it's budget information, know everything you can about where the budget stands, how much has been charged in the last week, month, six months (i.e. trends - so you can discuss what the future likely holds for the project), and how it got to be so out of shape in the first place. No customer wants you to sit down and deliver bad news if you seem like you don't have the whole story. That makes you sound like you're withholding information - like you can't be trusted. And nothing will create a bad relationship faster than a situation of mistrust. For me with the life-taking CEO it involved a sit down with my VP and a quick scouring of the news reports (yes, it was all over the news). Know everything you can…period.

2. Devise Options to Present

Options, options, options. Try to never go into a client situation to deliver bad news without providing some sort of options. You know how they say, 'if you're not part of the solution; then you're part of the problem'. Be that solution guy, not the problem guy. I offered options to my project client in the fraudulent CEO situation - even as the company was heading into bankruptcy and receivership. The result was my project client offered me a position with their organisation. I didn't take it, but it told me that the way I handled it was probably the best way I could have possibly handled it. I considered the job offer to be very positive feedback. Devise some options to present so you can work with your project customer to hopefully fix the situation, resurrect the project, and wade successfully through whatever issues have presented themselves.

That's the first two steps of my four step process of how to deliver tough news to your project client when you run into a potentially showstopper situation on one of your projects. It's a very difficult situation to be in, but the project manager is the point person and by taking on this role and doing it well, you can potentially put yourself and your team in a very favourable light with the project customer and thus gain their respect and co-operation in guiding the project through whatever issues are besetting it.


Comments

Be the first to comment on this article.

Add a comment



(never displayed)



 
2000
Out of 90, 76 or 12, which is the largest?
Notify me of new comments via email.
Remember my form inputs on this computer.

Avoiding Project Management Pitfalls

Foot about to tread on a banana skin

Common pitfalls that projects experience and some tips to help make a project more successful and avoid the potential for chaos.

Project Planning Essentials

Tablet computer with project manager app and documents with Gantt and financial charts

Planning a project requires putting a series of tasks in order and determining dependencies between them. In practice it's never so straightforward.

Building Your Project Team

Friendly successful project team of young executives

How should you set about choosing people for your project and forming them into a well functioning project team?

Which Life Cycle Is Best for Your Project?

Life cycle written on digital touch screen

When choosing a development life cycle, don't just trust your feelings. Decide based on factors that really matter.

PROJECT SMART is the project management resource that helps managers at all levels improve their performance. We provide an important knowledge base for those involved in managing projects of all kinds. With weekly exclusive updates, we keep you in touch with the latest project management thinking.

WE ARE CONNECTED ~ Follow us on social media to get regular updates and opinion on what's happening in the world of project management.


Latest Comments

Janice Paris commented on…
Better Coaching Using the GROW Model
- Fri 12 October 10:33pm

Julius commented on…
Better Coaching Using the GROW Model
- Thu 11 October 5:44am

Arianne Jane commented on…
Better Coaching Using the GROW Model
- Fri 5 October 10:04am

Latest tweets

General Project Management • Re: Which Project Phase is HyperCare? https://t.co/nqDy8fAK7q about 8 days ago

General Project Management • Which Project Phase is HyperCare? https://t.co/VpfYmrTcJS about 8 days ago

General Project Management • Advice on project management system with built-in CRM capabilities https://t.co/FX3hPKCxsu about 15 days ago