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Topics: Change Management, Communications Management, Leadership
Delivering bad news in a project
Network:2366



Hi Everyone!

In my regular PM meeting, we had this as part of our "topic of the month" and I wanted to open it to you guys to see what you think. So, how do you deliver bad news on a project?

Is it like a band aid and just do it quick and fast to minimise the pain? Or is it better to wait and see if your sponsor notices? (Yes, someone really did say that!).
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Hi Emiliy,

Over last 22 years, I have been put into these kinds of situations by my team knowingly or unknowingly. Over years, I started mind mapping cultural and emotional quotients of workforce and then analysed the same in conjunction with customer environment(Interactive, Hostile and Any other). Based on the situations, the mode of breaking the bad news was customised. But it is always recommended to inform sponsor so that the expectations are managed upfront. Last minute surprises can cause organisations lose both economically, customer satisfaction and will have adverse other effects within the rest fo organisation.

This is where the experience of PM comes in hand to assess the situation and prepare for the delivery of news if it cant be contained or rectified say within 12 hours of time. Even if you contain, the best practice is to report to senior management as issue and how the team overcame that issue. As a project manager, we all should be more trained to handle bad news than good news. That is the way I have always approached and delivered projects as PM.
Network:1708



Emily -

We need to operate with transparency and integrity, which implies timeliness and clarity of reporting. Presenting not only the bad news, but the potential impact and a recommendation to address the situation will paint a complete picture.

But "how" we deliver the news will be situational based on the context of the stakeholders we are delivering the news to. It will also be influenced by the culture of the organization or division in which the project is being delivered.

Kiron
Network:31553



It's part of our duty. I do agree with Kiron.
Network:82



"wait and see if your sponsor notices"

^^^^ Never this!!

As PM's, our role is to communicate The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Bad news is not always easy to deliver, depending on the circumstance, but bad news hidden is only ever going to end in pain.

Being able to communicate the harder conversations is one of the top tools in a Project Managers kit, it is rarely comfortable, it is not always taken well, but your sponsors and stakeholders will at least know you are transparent and truthful in your approach to the project.

In short, my view is Early sight and early comms give the best chance of the most suitable resolution - whatever that resolution brings.
Network:365



Transparency is good, but there is a big difference between hiding a problem until it gets too big, and knowing you have sufficient buffer in the plan to fix it without risk. There is also the issue of emotional intelligence.

Prior to sharing bad news it is usually wise to perform a stakeholder analysis, however this is generally informal. That includes considering:
- What is the significance of the problem?
- Who needs to know?
- How are they likely to react/respond?

Oversharing can also be a problem. We tend to manage projects at a more detail level than we report to our customers and other major stakeholders, in part because they don't need every detail, and in part because we don’t want them micro-managing our plans. There can also be bad news that will impact some people very personally, and we might want to consider sharing it individually, rather than in front of a large audience.
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1 reply by Karl Twort
Nov 27, 2019 10:56 AM
Karl Twort
...
Hey Keith,

Great advice.

I see this question by Emily as "Beyond" that point where we as PM's can assess, manage and handle before firing up the rescue flare.

In my view, we can manage many "problems" and "issues" without worrying sponsors or stakeholders, but when this becomes BAD NEWS, that is the point of no return. Comms need to be clear.
Network:82



Nov 27, 2019 10:51 AM
Replying to Keith Novak
...
Transparency is good, but there is a big difference between hiding a problem until it gets too big, and knowing you have sufficient buffer in the plan to fix it without risk. There is also the issue of emotional intelligence.

Prior to sharing bad news it is usually wise to perform a stakeholder analysis, however this is generally informal. That includes considering:
- What is the significance of the problem?
- Who needs to know?
- How are they likely to react/respond?

Oversharing can also be a problem. We tend to manage projects at a more detail level than we report to our customers and other major stakeholders, in part because they don't need every detail, and in part because we don’t want them micro-managing our plans. There can also be bad news that will impact some people very personally, and we might want to consider sharing it individually, rather than in front of a large audience.
Hey Keith,

Great advice.

I see this question by Emily as "Beyond" that point where we as PM's can assess, manage and handle before firing up the rescue flare.

In my view, we can manage many "problems" and "issues" without worrying sponsors or stakeholders, but when this becomes BAD NEWS, that is the point of no return. Comms need to be clear.
Network:3007



Dear Emily
Interesting question
Thanks for sharing

It is important that any communication we make is grounded in the Principles ie honesty, transparency, respect and responsibility

Before giving the bad (or good news) it is important to refer to the context in which the situations occurred

We can talk about situations using the concept Yin and Yang
Network:16218



Always flag things early. I don't see the point in delaying the truth unless it is beneficial in some way (other than avoiding the discomfort of delivering bad news).
Network:945



Discuss problems early and often. Never hid a problem behind buffer in either the schedule or the budget - it will always show itself in the end.
Network:2433



Candidly, as early as possible, and with more than just the 'what' and/or blame, but with integrity, respect, root cause, impacts, solutions....what does it mean to me (as in them).
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