Friday, November 9, 2012

The Difficulties for a PM in delivering bad news

No one likes to deliver bad news, but it is a reality of the project manager’s (PM’s) professional life. In a project going along very well, the first issue may be the worst to accept. In a project that has gone yellow or possibly red by missing project deliverables, this can add more angst to what already exists in the project. In an already red project, more bad news brings morale down even further such that no one on the team believes the project will ever meet its objectives.
If this sounds familiar, then join the club of PMs in a bad project. There is a proper way to deliver news no one on the team wants to hear, however bad it may be. Unfortunately, it is easier to take the low-road and join in the chorus of the “we will never end this project” naysayers. As the PM, you must stay above the fray and have a clear vision of the next steps and the end or even the closing of the project.
Be honest and transparent
The first mistake most PMs make is to sugar-coat the problem(s) and issue(s) of the project. The other project resources will see right through your attempt to downplay the problems of the project. I cannot stress enough that the PM can be empathetic, but must have a vision and road map to complete the project.  Even if the PM doesn’t have a clear vision, the next task is to bring the project team into the solution process by asking them to draw up the project road map based on the issue(s). If the members of the team feel that they can contribute to the solution, they may come up with the best way to get the project out of the red. However, be clear and honest about the project’s issues and the roadblocks ahead. If the project team understands the gravity of the problems, then they can address their solutions properly.
The PM must also be honest to the client and senior management, especially to the client and project sponsor. They must be on-board with your road map to resolve the issue(s). The job of the PM here is to get the client and project sponsor on-board with the plan to resolve the issue(s) and complete the tasks and project. Without their support, the PM will be fighting windmills and will not be successful. He must also get buy-in from senior management of his organization. That should be an easier task than convincing the client or project sponsor. However senior management, along with sales, must be aware of the plan and the risks.
Be direct and realistic
It was Yoda who said “do or do not, there is not try.”  In this case, that must be the PM’s motto. If in fact the project team believes there is a “silver bullet” for the issue(s), the PM must be able to bring them back on task if the resolution, however good it may sound, is not realistic. The PM must be tactful, but direct and realistic. What does the schedule allow? What are the expectations of the client and project sponsor? Are the team members willing to risk the complete failure of the project? What are the benefits, if any? These questions must be asked, discussed, and answered. Here is where the PM must take copious notes. The PM must be able to refer to these notes and logs of the events. They will be the PM’s best friend later when questions arise.
Be very clear
This is not the time for the PM to become verbose or too descriptive. The PM must be clear, or as we say, use “go or do not go” type of answers. There must be no confusion whatsoever. Speak up (don’t yell), and make sure the project team understands what you are saying. Bad news is tough enough to deliver, but to be misunderstood in delivering the news makes a bad situation much worse.
It goes without saying that no one enjoys delivering bad news. It does come with the management terrain. Do not forget that, as a PM, you are the manager of the project. The PM only has some of the privileges of management, but all of the accountability. You either have the wherewithal to conduct the management of the project or you do not and part of the job is delivering bad news.  
I am open to discussion at any time on these blogs or anything else related to project management you would like to explore. If you would like to comment about this blog, please do so by posting on this blog or by responding in an email at Benny A. Recine.You may inspire a blog article. I look forward to your comments.

1 comment:

  1. Benny:
    This is a good topic to debate on. Yes. Delivering the bad news is difficult and my opinion from my lessons learned is - deliver the bad news in installments and with each installment, suggest a detour.
    Thank you.