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Communication

How to Make Bad News Better in Project Management

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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Feedback Importance in Project Management

Encouraging feedback is one of the most important communication skills that can be used to engage with other members in your project team.  Just like all project leadership skills, it takes practice to help build your confidence and improve this skill. When feedback is given in the right way and with the right intentions, encouraging feedback can help put you on the right road to performance greatness.

It is important for the project manager (PM) to provide feedback to team members, so they hear the PM’s thoughts and suggestions on what they are doing well and not.  This helps to show your project team members that you care about their success and helps to motivate them to continue improving.

Types of Feedback the Project Manager Can Provide to Team Members:

  • Affirmative Feedback: Helps to maintain good performance by telling someone they have done a good job, as this helps reward the person and encourages them to continue that type of positive behavior.
  • Development Feedback: Helps people see what they can do differently, to possibly assist in changing their behavior and performance

As the project manager, how would you answer the following questions:

  • Do you provide feedback to project team members?
  • What type of feedback do you give (Affirmative or developmental or both)?
  • What is the best method of feedback do you use?
  • How frequently do you provide feedback to project team members?
 

Communication as a Necessary Evil

Assuming that you have the right people with the right information for a given project, the way you get information across to others requires solid communication.  Many projects that surface during a project are actually the results of poor communication that can lead into the following trouble areas:

  • People are Surprised-If your team members are not kept informed on what is going on, then they will be surprised when changes occur and may not be able to meet a deadline, if they are left off a status report, for example
  • Difference in Expectations-Project managers needs to ensure that everyone associated with the project has a common set of expectations in terms of what is to be delivered, when and at what cost so everyone is on the same page
  • Unknown Status of Project-If your team members don’t know what the status on the project is, they don’t know what needs to be done or what has been done.  It is important to keep everyone informed.
  • Last-Minute Impacts on Others-This is the primary cause of problems that occur during a project, as the project manager does not communicate proactively with other people about how everyone will be impacted.  Then once the communication occurs, it a last minute rush to resolve the issue

Helpful Tips on Communication:

  • Be Proactive Communicators: In most cases, the problems with communication are not a lack of skills, but a lack of focus, as many project managers place communication proactively at the bottom of their priority list. When PM’s do communicate, it tends to be short and cryptic, as if they were trying to get by with the minimum effort possible.
  • Keep the Receiver as the Focal Point, not the Sender: Try to think about what the receiver of the communication needs and what information would be most helpful to them.  For example, put all of the information that would be helpful in a status report for all users, such as accomplishments, issues, risks, scope changes, etc.
  • Communicate Clearly: If you find people are confused about their end-dates or what they need to do, think about whether you communicated these effectively to them

Poor communication can cause several problems and can aggravate others.  Be proactive in your communication and use it to your advantage to help your project go smoothly with less frustration, surprises, and uncertainty.

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