Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Deliver bad news in good ways on projects

Post Bite: Tips for delivering bad news on projects.

For the past couple of years Systemation has kindly asked me to deliver a series of webinars on the topics of my choice as long as they related to project management. 

Having spent more than three years working with the Tokii team to design, develop, and launch an Internet business, there's no dearth of situations and issues to mine for topics. Life in a startup is fast and furious and project challenges are a way of life.

When I first started doing project management and then later designing and delivering project management training workshops and consulting on projects, the focus was definitely on the technical side of things. Although I understood the reason for this focus, it simply wasn't always where I personally hit the speed bumps.

Common denominator
We do projects on a variety of things. Some are rather small and others are large and complex. The golden rule in project management is not to overdo things; in other words, make the plan appropriate to the size and complexity of the project and only use what you really need to get the project done. 

This just means it's normal to use different tools and to trim steps to accommodate that rule. That's part of the art of project management. But while the project process and tools may change a bit, there's one common denominator that runs throughout a project: People.

Welcome to my speed bump and apparently the speed bump of the thousands of people I've either had the pleasure of training, coaching, or working with on projects.

When it comes to people, we all know one size doesn't fit all. The smart project manager checks their ego at the door when working with people. They also make adjustments in their personal style to accommodate the style of the person with whom they are working. This is particularly important when it comes to delivering bad news. 

I won't rehash the presentation here. It's brief and gives tips on how to say what we don't always want to say to sponsors and stakeholders particularly if we're working in an environment where the messager tends to get shot.
However you deliver bad news, the important thing is to not delay it. Let decision makers know as soon as possible when there's a problem. Keep it honest, brief, and focused. Be clear about what has to be done and prepared with recommendations for how to respond.

I've received a lot of feedback about this subject so I think I'm going to do a deeper dive by writing a book about it. I'd love to hear examples from you where you've had to deliver bad news and how you handled it. I look forward to your online and offline comments!

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