Meredith Zehnder, PMP, is a senior project
manager at Lyons Consulting Group, Chicago,
team members as soon as possible, but make sure
you have a plan in place when you do. Say that
while you’re sorry to see him or her go, you’re
confident the replacement is ready to pick up
where he or she left off. Explain the transition plan
and move forward as though the replacement was
always there. Try to minimize the number of times
you tell the replacement, “I know you’re still
getting up to speed on this…” in front of the client.
That, too, will instill doubt.
You’re most likely going to miss a deadline.
We all play a game of chicken in this area from
time to time. There’s a point when the deadline is
at risk that you may say to yourself, “This is either
going to work out perfectly or be a complete
disaster.” That’s usually the right moment to let
the client in on the potential issue.
I once wrestled with another project manager
for a highly sought-after resource. We found a
compromise in which the resource’s time on-site
with my client would be cut in half and the delivery
of his solution would most likely be a few days late.
The resource promised me he could still deliver
the solution on time. I knew that might not happen, but I didn’t mention my fears to the client.
I had to deliver the news that the resource’s time
on-site was going to be cut and didn’t want to
risk further upset by mentioning the risk of the
missed deadline. In the meantime, I worked out
an alternative plan to minimize impact. When my
resource did, in fact, miss the deadline, I presented
I was immediately met with the dreaded question,
“When did you realize we were at risk?” Then the
follow-up question, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
The client didn’t care nearly as much about the
missed deadline as he did about the lack of com-
munication. He felt left in the dark, and his suspi-
cions plagued the rest of the project. Who could
The lesson: When a deadline is at risk, commu-
nicate it to your client. Develop an alternative plan
and walk the client through it. This will demon-
strate you are behaving proactively and are able to
recognize and mitigate risk.
If you have a more collaborative client, you can
go into the conversation with some suggestions for
how you would like to handle this moving forward.
It will allow you to openly work on mitigating the
risk by coming up with an alternative, and the client will feel more comfortable by having a voice in
how the issue is handled.
The project was over budget before it started.
Another common problem faced by project managers today is being handed a project that wasn’t
budgeted appropriately. This is a tough position
that, unfortunately, is sometimes left for the project manager to handle. In this case, bring it up as
soon as possible, but have your thoughts very well
organized. Convey the issues to the client (
preferably in a private phone call rather than a group
setting, like a kickoff call) with an explanation of
what you believe is not accounted for in the current scope and budget of the project, and how you
would like to handle it (one suggestion would be to
go through a formal reconciliation process).
There is one critical element to delivering bad
news: Bring the client solutions, not problems. If
you come to the table with bad news, the situation will usually quickly diffuse itself the moment
you start discussing the solution to the problem.
As a project manager, your client expects you to
call out issues and risks. It’s where the real value
of a project manager lies. Communicating appropriate issues that affect your client in a timely
manner will protect your client relationship and
your integrity as a project manager, and most
important, will help make for a successful project
and a happy client. PM