Bad news…well…that’s the flip side. Giving bad news to family, friends, etc…no fun at all. Bad news to our management at work – makes me cringe…and depending on the news it can be a career-changer. Giving bad news to a customer…ouch. Will they drop the project, deem me incompetent, cancel my consulting engagement? It’s not something I ever look forward to - I doubt that anyone really looks forward to the bad news part of the job.
However, we all know deep down that honesty is the best policy and the customer is going to find out the bad stuff sooner or later. They better find it out from the project manager and it better come with some proposed plans of action attached. Otherwise we may find ourselves on the wrong end of a phone call from our CEO who just received a call from our project customer…and he won’t be happy.
So, when we’ve run into something big – some potential show-stopping issue or issues on our project and we must take action, alert our customer and get the project back on track, what steps to you take? What have you found to be the best process to figure what to do and get back on track as quickly as possible? From my experience, I’ve found that my best course of action is to follow four steps. These steps involve analyzing the situation to discover the issues, discussing the issues with management to make them aware, present the issues and courses of action to the customer, and then put the best plan of action into motion. Let’s each examine further...
Analyze and discover. I’m assuming – for this article that the issues were discovered by the project manager and the project delivery team…not the customer. At this point, the team must gather and analyze the situation or the issues that are halting the project. Gather the team to brainstorm, list the issues and identify potential resolutions or courses of action to take and do your best to prioritize each based on feasibility, cost / effort involved, and likelihood for success. This will be important information for your management and for the customer in the next steps.
Take it to management. Next, meet with your senior management or PMO director to discuss the problem and the potential courses of action that you and your team have identified. It’s important to get their signoff – especially if this is a highly visible project or the action plan is a costly one to the engagement. They may even want to be part of that customer discussion, which brings us to the next step.
Go to the customer. Next, as the PM leading the project, you’re in charge of all communication so it should be you who initially reaches out and informs the customer of the issue, if they don’t already know about it. Avoid letting your supervisor take on this task as it can seriously damage the customer’s confidence in you as the project manager and leader in charge. Here’s an interesting fact - when I led the Las Vegas PMO for a now defunct organization headquartered in another state, and the company was shutting down due to some issues with our CEO, it was me and not my VP that went to my clients to inform them of the situation. It was not a fun position to be in, but it had to be done and it ultimately led to the largest affected client offering me a lead position with their organization.
Following that initial contact, hold a more formal call with the customer to discuss the problem in detail and present the potential courses of action that you and your team have come up with. Try never to just bring problems to the table – always bring potential solutions as well. Brainstorm with the customer on the top corrective action choice from the list you and your team put together and make sure everyone is in agreement on next steps.
Implement. Finally, move forward with the corrective action and keep this as a key status item on the status reports and as part of the weekly status meeting going forward until you and your team have satisfactorily resolved the issue.
Bad news is a given in the project management world. However, we can make that bad news easier to accept if we follow the proper steps in getting from realization to resolution. It requires a process of swift action and wise decision making…and teamwork. Remember, it’s the customer’s project and money, but they want you to succeed. Take the issues to them and make them part of the solution.