Project Management – How to Deliver Bad News

Mike Girdler

How good project managers deliver bad news ~ do’s and don’ts Project managers often have to inform others about bad news on a project. It doesn’t matter …

How good project managers deliver bad news ~ do’s and don’ts

Project managers often have to inform others about bad news on a project. It doesn’t matter what the origin of the bad news is, what matters is that you have bad news and it must be delivered. How do effective project managers perform this task and keep projects moving forward? It’s easy if you keep in mind a few do’s and don’ts. can telephones

Don’t wait to deliver the news

When there’s unpleasant news related to a project what should you do? Deliver it! As the project manager, you have a responsibility to the success of the project and part of that is communicating with stakeholders. Avoid, as Jennifer Whit notes, “The Silent Treatment”, don’t withhold the information. There is no value in running away from bad news or hoping the bad news will somehow resolve itself, saving you from delivering the news. It’s critical that team members and stakeholders are aware of what’s happening and are able to take the right action.  As an effective project leader, it’s up to you to ensure the right people are informed in a timely manner.

Do be prepared

An effective leader who needs to deliver bad news must be prepared. As Mark Price notes, remember your audience. Before you deliver your news, prepare by thinking about who you will be speaking with and their potential needs. Specifically, besides the bad news, what other information will they want? What questions will they have?  By being prepared and thinking ahead it will allow you to make sure your audience has a complete picture of the situation, how it impacts them and expectations.

Do provide solutions

We’ve all heard the line, “Don’t bring me the problem, bring me the solution”. Effective project managers must also be ready to provide solutions. Before delivering the bad news, spend time doing some analysis. Find out exactly what happened, why it happened and what the impact is. Armed with this knowledge you can begin to formulate possible solutions and recommendations on how to move forward. These can help stimulate thinking among team members and stakeholders and also reinforces that you are in control of your project and are poised for a successful resolution to the problem that spawned the bad news.

Delivering bad project news can be less painful if you remember a few of the do’s & don’ts. Do deliver the news, don’t withhold it from your team. Do make sure you’re prepared with a complete picture for your team, don’t leave them wondering and guessing. Do make sure you have some possible solutions to handle the bad news, and don’t forget your role in bringing a successful project to fruition.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have any tips on delivering bad news on projects? We’d love to hear about them. Feel free to leave a comment below or shout out to us on Facebook or Twitter. Of course, you could always write your own blog post on the subject and share it with us… We’d love to read it!

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4 thoughts on “Project Management – How to Deliver Bad News”

    • Thanks very much. I appreciate the feedback. I hope you return for other project related posts and tips.

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Michael Girdler is a vice-president, CornerStone Dynamics Inc. His blogs focus on all things project management. Throughout Mike's career, he has invested deeply into projects involving sales, marketing, training and development, continuing education, and communications environments.

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