Things are going to go wrong in your projects at some point. There, I’ve said it. No project manager who has been doing the job for long can deny that there is no shortage of potential risk which could derail your work if you aren’t careful. Even if you are careful there is still sure to be some problem or other which you simply can’t avoid, so how will you let other people know when this happens?
Break It to Them Gently
I am not talking here about here about sitting your stakeholders down for a cup of coffee before gently telling them the situation in a roundabout way. What I mean is that you shouldn’t grab the phone as soon as you find out a problem and scream “It’s all gone horribly wrong!” in a shaky voice. There are ways of giving out this bad news which will help you control the situation and show that you are in control. Ideally, there will be a project meeting coming up soon enough for you to leave it until then but far enough away for you to organize yourself a little before then.
One common error you will want to avoid is that of sitting on the issue for too long. Maybe you are afraid of the reactions the bad news might provoke but by putting this moment off you will only make matters worse. If there is no project meeting on the horizon then you will probably want to arrange some sort of get together to discuss the situation. Of course, you need to weigh up all the different factors and decide just how urgent this problem is. If you feel as though things are running out of your control then you will want to try and calm the situation down as quickly as you can. If this is the case then it could be that it works out better for you to have a project team meeting first of all, in order to let you gather your thoughts and get some ideas on the way forward before you speak to the stakeholders.
Give Them Options
Once you tell your team members and stakeholders about the issues they are sure to expect you to show them what options are now open to them. What you most want to avoid is the situation of telling them about a problem and then admitting that you have absolutely no idea what to do about it. Before your meetings you should consider all of the possible options, from starting all over again to toughing it out with the same approach. You will want the meeting attendees to contribute with their ideas but you don’t want them to come up with obvious answers which you hadn’t thought of beforehand. Try to go into the meeting as well-prepared as you can be and ready to seize the opportunity to put across some new options you have come up. It might even be a chance to make the whole project better than it was going to be before you ran into these problems anyway.
Don’t Get Into the Blame Game
If you are working with a big project team and a number of stakeholders then there is likely to be no shortage of people who are only too happy to throw the blame around when things go wrong. I guess that it is human nature for anyone to do this but it isn’t going to take your project to a good place. Instead, you should look to lead honest and constructive discussions about how to get the project back on track. Pointing the finger of blame around the room is only going to cause you to waste time and might cause resentment to build up in the room as well. You need to make it clear from the outset that you aren’t there to assign blame but rather to find the best way forward for the piece of work. Of course, you will want to make sure that the same issue doesn’t arise again in the future, so if it is someone else’s mistake which has caused the problems then you will need to take the time to find out why it happened in the first place and what now needs to be done so that it won’t happen again in the future. However, this is something which can happen away from the meeting room.
Ben Ferris is the founder of Cobalt Project Manager, online project management software for teams. Read more project management tips and tricks on the Cobalt Project Manager Blog.