Delivering Bad News and Recommending Alternatives as a Project Manager

Some projects reach a point where significant changes are needed to rescue their position, or even where the level of risk makes a project no longer tenable. Delivering difficult messages to stakeholders and recommending the right course of action requires courageous project management but can ensure positive outcomes.

This may be even more visible now, where the pandemic has added additional layers of risk and complexity to the project delivery environment. Budgets are tighter with challenging timelines while scope and approaches may also need to change.

Pandemic-related or not, Ben Howell, r10’s Associate, is sharing his recommendations on how to deliver difficult messages and be a courageous Project Manager.

1. Be strategically aware

Significant project issues can happen in any organisation and to any project. Sometimes it’s obvious; way over deadline or perhaps the product is no longer relevant. Sometimes it is subtler. For example, the firm has altered its strategy and the project no longer fits the new direction.

Being strategically aware is a key attribute in a Project Manager. Maintaining regular touchpoints with sponsors and other leaders ensures an understanding of the bigger picture. They must also balance running the project (down and in) with understanding the operating environment (up and out), and keep their team informed. Everyone works better when they understand the context around them.

2. Explore options and seek alternatives

When considering the future of a project (and even if recommending closure), a “solutions not problems” approach pays dividends. The Project Manager should do the homework to get the right result.

The Project Manager should explore these options and more.

  • What are the alternatives?
  • Can the solution be modified and used differently to mitigate the impact?
  • Is it applicable to another part of the business?
  • Can the project be worked in a different way to bring in delivery dates and/or reduce costs?
  • Why was any new approach not considered previously?

Any viable option needs a resourced and budgeted project plan, with key risks and issues identified.

3. Being courageous is part of being a good Project Manager

When giving the message be plain and unequivocal, underpin reasoning with facts, understand the business and ensure you are confident how the change impacts the outcome. Provide viable options having exhausted alternatives, demonstrate what can be rescued or repurposed.

Project Managers should demonstrate moral courage; project issues rarely improve with age, and closure might be the right decision. Not being afraid to raise and tackle difficult discussions early better serves the interests of the business and can enhance a Project Manager’s professional reputation and increase respect from business leadership.

The downsides of decisive action can be managed. A strategically aware Project Manager will be more able to seek opportunities for any project team members released through any change of approach.

Honest, clear and timely communication which provides a look forward and reaffirms strategy from both project and business teams will help manage customers and other stakeholder groups. With sound leadership and communication, the experience can be positive for the business and the team and ensure lessons, good and bad, can be learned and not repeated.

r10 has a strong pedigree in delivering successful projects, but our talented Project Managers also see the bigger picture and never shy away from difficult decisions. That’s one of the many reasons we build trusted and long-term relationships with our clients.