In a perfect business world, projects flow from beginning to end without a hitch. Here in the real world, there are usually a few challenges along the way. No matter the type of project, falling behind schedule is a common trial. And if your project is running late, be prepared to step up and explain why.
Being the bearer of bad news is never comfortable, so here are a few suggestions to minimize the pain.
First, make sure you aren’t worrying over nothing. Savvy project managers’ budget for delays, writing leeway into the schedule based on previous experience. Formally agreed upon flexibility in a project deadline is called “tolerance.” If you have agreed upon tolerances, and you plan to finish within that window, then your project isn’t late. (If you don’t have tolerances in place, set them up with your sponsor now.)
Stakeholders are smart people. It’s more important to maintain your integrity than to stretch the truth or offer flimsy excuses. Acts of nature or acts of war excluded, if someone messed up (including you) be prepared to admit responsibility and apologize.
Know the Facts
Showing competence extends to having reliable information. Have the essentials on hand for reference. Use your project management software tools to access current, accurate data. It won’t help your case to rely on out-of-date records.
Your team members can help you evaluate delays and identify causes to address. There may be multiple issues that need to be fixed. You’ll want to research each point, so you can formulate how to address them. Presenting a solution along with news of the problem is a move in the right direction.
Plan Your Presentation
The content you choose to include will depend on the presentation’s audience. If you are talking to people who are unfamiliar with the issue, including a brief project summary could be helpful.
In any case, get to the point. Be candid about the schedule delay and contributing problems. Then share what you are doing now to fix it. If the next step requires a decision or further direction, ask for it at the end of your presentation. If possible, refresh your facts and figures with the latest update just before the meeting.
Ask the Question
The ordeal isn’t over when your presentation ends. Be prepared to answer questions. To avoid being caught off guard, put yourself in the project manager’s place as you review your presentation plan. Ask yourself: What is the budget impact? Are other projects affected? Are additional delays probable? If there is something you really don’t want to talk about, pay extra attention to planning that response. It’s probably the first question you’ll be asked.
If you don’t know the answer or need to do further research, just say so, but don’t let it be a dead end. Find out the answer. Then follow up with the person who asked as soon as possible.
Call for Back-up
It’s not a good idea to bring someone along just for moral support. If you are lucky enough to have involved team members who are familiar with the project, they can be a good resource to have on hand. A colleague or two with advanced technical knowledge or in-depth experience dealing with similar issues could contribute to the presentation, ensuring that you can adequately address any questions.
Once the presentation is behind you, update your project team. Let them know about pivotal decisions. Then work on adjusting future plans accordingly. Now is also the time to follow up with any additional data you promised to provide.
Most importantly, use this bump as a stepping stone to better communication and interaction with key stakeholders. Include them in project announcements and keep them abreast of progress. You may even choose to share your project dashboard, or customized dashboards, with them. Stakeholders will be able to see how work is progressing, with confidence that you and your team are on the revised track.
Annette Jepson is a business writer with extensive PM experience. She is currently researching business process management trends for JobTraQ.