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Embracing Bad News

Updated: Aug 29, 2021

One of the most common and most difficult things we need to do as project managers and leaders is embracing bad news. It’s inevitable that we will go probably an entire week (let alone our whole careers) without dealing with some bad news (professionally of course). What makes bad news such a challenge to deal with is that it’s not part of the plan. So, why not make it part of the plan?

What is a Risk?

A risk is something that hasn’t happened yet, but something that you feel *may* happen through the course of your project (or your profession). Using our experience, our knowledge of the team, customer, and project environment we can formulate a list of risks that we think might materialize into issues on our project and then prepare a mitigation plan to address these issues if and when they happen. That’s the simple part.

Risk Becomes Real

Uh-oh! One of your risks has now become real and is now an issue for your project. How do you handle it? Two key things that you must do. First – communicate, communicate, communicate. Tell your team, tell your project sponsor, communicate to them that this has happened. But along with that communication should be a plan to address it. What is the plan to remediate the issue? Who is owning that plan? What is the deadline to fix the issue? Secondly – act on your action plan. Work the issue per the plan, resolve and move on.

Timely Response

When something challenging happens, it can sometimes be instinct to avoid it and put it of until “tomorrow”. This is the easy way out for today but makes the issue that much more difficult to deal with when you do decide to tackle it. Problems are always easiest to solve when they are new. The more they age, the more difficult they generally are to solve. Not to mention the confidence that erodes in you and your team the longer you let an issue age and become worse.

What makes ‘bad news’ bad is usually because it’s not according to the plan. When we know that it’s coming, we can prepare for it and action it accordingly. What makes bad news more difficult is when it’s unexpected. That’s where strong risk and issue management really prove their worth in a project.


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