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
What is the sum of 1 + 3 + 3?
Notify me of new comments via email.
Remember my form inputs on this computer.

Risk Management Options

Risk management written on a puzzle piece

Risk management is an ongoing process to identify potential problems that could arise when new projects occur within a business.

Project Planning in a Nutshell

Gantt chart

This article provides an overview of why it is important to prepare a project plan. It also shows what elements a good project plan will include.

10 Ways to Inspire Your Team

Green lead by example check mark and pencil

As a project manager you are in a prime position to inspire your team. Here are ten ways to get you started.

My Budget is 10% Over, Now What?

10 percent red wood sign with golden background

Suffering a budget overrun? Here's three key things you can do mid-stream on a project to help get the budget back in line with the original plan.

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

Selestina Seyala Mandumbwa commented on…
How to Avoid Project Burnout
- Sat 20 April 8:32am

Tora L. commented on…
The Role of the Project Manager
- Tue 16 April 1:03pm

Quinsey Moyo commented on…
Top 10 Qualities of a Project Manager
- Mon 15 April 4:35pm

Latest tweets

General Project Management • Re: Writing a CV for a Project Manager role https://t.co/yKHLVie1Dm about 1 day ago

General Project Management • Re: Recently passed the PMP exam. Read my story https://t.co/XCvxVpt1sc about 1 day ago

General Project Management • Re: Writing a CV for a Project Manager role https://t.co/uEzvcwb9tf about 4 days ago