Tips For Sharing Bad News with Stakeholders


Dear Stakeholders: We have a problem. If you dread communicating project glitches to customers, take heart—telling folks your project is facing issues is rarely a fun task, but we have some suggestions on how (and why) to get bad news out in the open.

1 – Say it early. Unless it’s an issue you’re certain can be handled internally without any detectable effects on stakeholders, you’re best off sounding the alert early. End users and supporters are more likely to be amenable to solutions that impact time-frames or final objectives if they can see you’ve been proactive and upfront with them.

2 – Say it clearly. Now is not the time for buzzwords or vague project-speak—confusing your stakeholders will only make them more unhappy. Instead, plainly state the issue, along with its triggers (if you can). Misunderstandings certainly won’t build support for whatever solution you implement, so lay out the facts in understandable language.

3 – Say it without blame. The urge to point fingers may be strong, but now is not the time to indulge it. Even if a vendor completely dropped the ball and botched your project to smithereens, it’s better to deal with the issue professionally—and with the vendor directly—than to air your grievances far and wide. Explain the probable cause of the problem in broad terms (e.g., manufacturing delays, supply chain shortages) but consider keeping the details within your Project Team.

4 – Say it with a solution. You may not have completely formulated a plan to deal with the problem yet, but framing the issue along with a possible resolution will often go a long way toward maintaining stakeholders’ confidence in your team. Be sure to delineate where the plan is still in development, so you aren’t inadvertently setting expectations you may need to revisit later.


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