How to Make Bad News Better in Project Management

07 May

In the day-to-day activities of a project manager, we are faced with people delivering bad news to us, so it becomes our job responsibility to pass this information onto the project team.   I personally have experienced occasions where upper management make changes at the last minute to the definition of the project, testing did not go as planned or failed and having to develop a Plan B & C within minutes, or once you are about to go live in minutes, you’re informed regulatory issue.  In each of these scenarios that I have experienced, the best advice is to try and maintain calm, allow yourself to understand the full picture of issue, brainstorm ways to resolve the issues, and if time permits, talk with others to come up with a resolution.

Delivering bad news to your project team takes discretion, skill, and good judgment in how to effectively deliver bad news without leaving a path of destruction behind.

Some bad news approach methods are:

1)      Spin Technique:  Try to make the bad news sound like good news

  • Be knowledgeable about the subject: You want the audience to know you are well-versed in the subject and related subjects, so you are best prepared for any side directions people may lead you in their questions.
  • Don’t present points that do not support your position: Don’t brush off the opposition, but rather indicate why those opposing points are not relevant or incorrect

2)      Compare & Minimize: Compromise to find an “in-the-middle” resolution

  • List Out Good Things:  Don’t ignore the bad news, but focus your effect on the positive end result

3)      Sandwich Concept: Good News-Bad News-Good News

  • Present the Good News First: If you present the bad news first, the audience may focus on that and lose their attention while you present the good news.
  • Don’t Make Excuses: Something occurred that was not expected and yes it wasn’t a good thing, but don’t dodge the responsibility
  • Don’t Finger-Point: Instead of a blame fixer, be a problem fixer.  Do not assign the bad news to someone.

Other Take Aways:

  • Rehearse so you put your best foot forward and are prepared for answering questions prior too
  • I suggest never giving bad news first as it starts your presentation off on a bad note and may lose your audience’s interest at the very beginning
  • Show respect for those who are affected by the bad news
  • Tailor your presentation appropriately, meaning if you use a PowerPoint Slide Deck, use simple, professional colors.  Example is you wouldn’t wear a Hawaiian Shirt to a Funeral
  • When scheduling a bad-news meeting, only invite those people that are necessary/effected to the discussion.  Provide them with the facts, then leave it up to the individuals to disseminate the information t their teams
  • Don’t sugarcoat bad news.  Simply be forthright and optimistic when delivering bad news
  • No Dancing.  It’s important to let the group know the bad news and get it over with so you look for solutions to resolve the issue.
What is the best method you have found to rely bad news to your project team?


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