Life would be great if there was never any need to give out bad news, wouldn’t it be? If every project meeting were to involve good news and back slapping all round they would probably be the highlights of the month.
Sadly this isn’t usually the case and at some point you will need to give out some bad news to the stakeholders. How you do this is going to make a big difference to how the whole situation plays out in the long run. Here are some reasons why it is best to take control of the matter and communicate the unwelcome news proactively.
Get Things Resolved Quickly
When something goes wrong in the project you will want to fix it as soon as possible. There may be a number of ways of doing this but often going direct to the stakeholders is the best one. You may not like to go to them and admit that there is a problem but doing so could help you get on track again. You will want to think about your approach before you go ahead and do this but don’t hang about too long or it could be too late. Even if they are taken aback by the initial impact of unexpected setbacks you would hope that they get over this and start to help you find a solution.
Stop the Rumors
If your project is going through some tough times then there is a very good chance that the stakeholders already know about it anyway. Rumors of a failing project are unlikely to enhance your reputation as a project manager, especially if they later turn out to be true and you didn’t do anything about it when you had the chance. Ideally all of the bad news will reach the stakeholders direct from you before any rumors even have a chance to get to them first.
By not saying anything or by passing on incorrect information you automatically start to lose control of the project. As the leader of the project you need to stay in control and to appear to be in control as well. There are good parts to this of course but when it comes to passing on bad news you simply need to do it whether you like to or not.
Some stakeholders are more hands-on than others but you need all of them to be working with you instead of on their own. If you want this to happen then you need be completely honest and give them all of the information which they require in order to play an effective part in the piece of work. Even if you want to keep the bad news from them for a good reason all you will end up doing is alienating them from the project. What you need to remember is that they can only contribute effectively if you give them all of the information on the up-to-date situation. Otherwise you could have them working blind through a lack of information.
There is no doubt that project managers and stakeholders need to trust each other. This is easier said than done and you might find that at the start of the piece of work it is difficult for you to get along together. Over time your goal should be to build trust, and solving problems and difficult situations together is one great way of doing that. You might expect them to react badly but it is your job to lead the project and that often means dealing with angry stakeholders as well as happy ones.
Share the Load
Being a project manager means taking on a lot of responsibility but you can make life easier for yourself by sharing the load a little. If you are the only person who knows about a major problem then you won’t do yourself any good by keeping it to yourself. Hopefully you will have some trusted team members you can speak to about these things but this might not be enough. If you have bad news to give to the stakeholders then holding onto it is going to make you feel even worse. How are they going to react? Are they going to cause a big scene? Things probably won’t be as bad as you expect them to be but you can’t be sure until you get it out of the way and clear the air.
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