Tips for Project Success: how to deliver bad news

This topic came about from one of the “Hot topics” in our regular PM Meetings so I decided to ask the community on how they deliver bad news. This discussion started in our regular meeting about the best way that we could be delivering bad news during a project. For me, this was instantly a question of ethics rather than situational resolution and discussing the role of the Project Manager to deliver and be honest during the duration of the project.

What does bad news look like to you?

There was a lot of input from the PM Community and here are some of the most valuable outputs that i’ve taken away from the discussion:

  • Look at the culture of the organisation and map the best way of delivering bad news
  • Stakeholder management of your sponsor and expectation management is critical
  • It’s the role of the Project Manager to operate with transparency and integrity and delivering the bad news in a timely manner is part of this
  • Do a stakeholder analysis of the impact of the news and see who needs to be informed
  • Communication needs to be clear and you need to have a clear communication strategy
  • Discuss any issues early and often
  • There’s no such thing as bad news… it’s all about your perception. You need to look at every “bad” news as an opportunity
  • You need to make sure that you’re not just being transparent but being accurate, complete and valid… put on your audit hat!
  • What’s the impact? do an impact analysis to understand the real impact before communicating
  • Look at your data points. What needs to be communicated? What needs to be changed?
  • It’s “better tell the bitter truth rather than suffer through a lie. Rip that band aid off is sometimes the best thing. It’s a reality check when you do”.

When discussing this in our group, we decided that there are a few clear steps that you can undertake when you’re aware that there is something going wrong in your project:

  1. Analyse what’s really going on and get the full picture
  2. Perform a stakeholder analysis for the news and what needs to be said/updated
  3. Come with solutions as well as an issue. If you need support/ideas, this needs to be SMART and clear
  4. Look at what you need to do and if there are wider changes to be made to the project.

Ultimately, what you should not do is hide the truth, or wait and see if the sponsor finds out. It’s important to remember that as a Project Manager you are responsible to your profession to behave in an ethical manner. If you need help with this, feel free to look at some of these resources below:

So, tell me: How do you deliver bad news? Would you agree with the steps above? Or would you suggest something different?

I really like the comment from a Project Manager on that it’s all about your mindset and there is no such thing as bad news…but opportunities!

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