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Topics: Communications Management
What's your experience in sharing bad news to a customer?

I have a junior PM who was aware of underlying issues with the project, but did not communicate this to the customer. She tried to resolve the issues behind the scenes internally with the team, but ultimately failed to resolve the issue and only shared the bad news with the customer at the due date. Unsurprisingly, the customer was extremely angry and demanded to change the PM due to loss of trust in her abilities.

What would be your advice in handling this type of situation?
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Accepting responsibility for the misstep and assuring the customer that you have taken steps to prevent this from occurring again in the future would be number one. A junior PM who is interfacing directly with a customer needs a Sr. PM guiding them until they have proven themselves responsible and mature enough to work independently.

Missteps happen and most customers are understanding when they see accountability and of course have a direct remedy to the issue of concern.
1 reply by Kimberly McCoy
Aug 22, 2019 11:43 AM
Kimberly McCoy
I completely agree with this.

Another thing too, is make this a learning experience. It seems obvious that this person a.) either did not know this was expected, as s/he is a junior PM, or b.) tried to hide the fact that the project was failing. Either way training may help elevate some of the headaches this has caused and prevent them from occurring in the future.

Let her take the responsibility is a good lesson for her to growth.

It is important for us as PMs to know and understand the impact any issue might have. You do not want to run to the stakeholders with every issue and if it can be resolved behind the scenes then great but to do this you must take the time to understand the impact. If you don't you end up in the situation you describe. My own experience has always been that it is best to alert the stakeholders well in advance of impending doom but when you do that you go with an action plan. No stakeholder likes bad new but they like it even less if it is given on the 11th hour.

I agree with George. Work with the junior PM to resolve it. If you have a trusted relationship with the stakeholder is should not be difficult. Throwing her to the wolves now is not a good idea. If this is not a recurring thing then probably it is a kneejerk reaction from the stakeholder, something they (we all) love to do when panic sets in.

Try to understand why she did that. Was it because she was confident the issue could be resolved behind the scene (I'm not saying it's the right thing to do) or was it because she was just affraid to share the bad news with the client?
If it is the second case, maybe she needs more confidence in her self. A training in Inter-personal skills can help. Also, an advice from how a senior PM on your company would have dealt with this situation can help her in the future.

Lesson learned & self actualization/accountability is the key of success. May be it's bad or could loss customer/client confidence. But in future it could grow up more strong relationship with client. Don't worry whatever, PM says don't hide anything to client. So make it firmly. Situation will be promising & overcome.

First thing to understand is why the PM did that, as @Tarik said. People behave in a way for a reason and most of the times is becasue the environment (mainly organizational environment) where the PM is inmerse and the person who is close to her/him, you in this case. Second, the reason because the client is asking to change the PM could be others then try to understand it. Third, I always try to keep people in their place becasue change them usualy makes things worst.

This is definitely a lesson for her and she must learn from it. Sharing upfront the possible issues with the customer is always better than telling at the end you didn t complete the project. And just like Anton said, come up with solutions.
In this particular situation you must help her to understand what she did wrong and what is the lesson learned here.
As for the customer, talk to him straight, admitting the errors and show him what will you do to go back on track and reach the project objectives. Maybe it would be better to appoint here a senior PM and she could do a sort of job shadowing.

The earlier the better. It is also in these situations where one can lean on the relations, trust, and influence built. Consistent transparency, with valuable solutions.

As PMs we are expected to operate with integrity and to demonstrate transparency. Only by doing so can we hope to influence our team members to do likewise.

The PM should have come up with some options with the team and then shared the issue and recommended solutions with the client in a timely, honest manner.

I start by saying "I have a problem." That gives a chance to my interlocutors to feel like they are in a position to help me.
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