This is a guest post from Helena Liu, PMP.
Delivering bad news to your project sponsor is not an easy task that any project manager. You never know what you can expect. However, projects almost never go according to plan, resulting in extensions and budget increases. Learning how to communicate deal with and communicate bad news to a project sponsor effectively is vital and it can increase your trust and credibility.
Put yourself in their shoes
Before you tell your sponsor what happened, try to put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself, “How would I feel and react if this happened to me?” By recognizing the impact on your sponsor, you can frame the discussion around your sponsor’s point of view. The empathy that you show your sponsor demonstrates that you care about their needs.
Be honest and direct
Tell your sponsor what they need to know. It is most effective to set up a face-to-face meeting to communicate bad news. During the conversation, be honest and direct. Don’t give long-winded excuses and try to tell half-truths.
For example, if your project is over budget, just tell your sponsor that you are over budget and show them how much you are over budget relative to your cost baseline.
By being honest and direct, you tackle the issue and get to the root cause. You work on finding a solution instead of placing blame.
Don’t make excuses. As the project manager, even though you are not the one delivering, you are still responsible for the deliverable. For example, even though it was your developer who did not deliver his code on time, it is still your responsibility to deal with it.
Once you’ve told your sponsor the bad news, it’s now your turn to listen. Actively listen to what your sponsor has to say. S/he may have additional points that you overlooked or have not considered. Make sure you note down their concerns and address all of them.
Provide alternatives by looking for win-wins
Once you and your sponsor both understand what the issue is, you can provide solutions to your sponsor. Ideally, the alternatives would be a win-win for both of you. Prepare solutions that would address your sponsor’s main concerns. Communicate the pros and cons of each alternative. Focus your conversation on solving the problem and aligning to the best possible solution. By doing so, you can turn a negative situation into a positive one. Your sponsor may trust you more as a result.
Set clear expectations going forward
Once the best alternative is agreed upon, you need to tell your sponsor what’s going to get done and by when. Don’t be too ambitious with your estimates because you don’t want to set your sponsor up for another disappointment. Set realistic and SMART (Specific, Measurable, Agreed upon, Realistic, and Time-based) goals to complete your project deliverables.
Restate your commitment to the project
Tell your sponsor how much your value the opportunity to work for them and be chosen as the project manager for your project. Your sponsor will be more confident about your delivery knowing that your dedication and commitment to the project has not wavered.
When dealing with your project sponsor, you need to be compassionate and understanding. Delivering bad news is not about pointing fingers and placing blame. Your success is not measured by whether or not you can convince your sponsor that you are “right”. Rather, your success is measured by how much your sponsor likes and trusts you.
Photograph courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net