5 things the project manager doesn’t want to have to say


By guest blogger Brad Egeland.

Project managers are the ones in control. Or at least in control of as much as they can control. And, as I always say, communication is Job One for the project manager. Therefore, everything – both good and bad – really needs to come from the project manager. Whether that’s the to the project customer, the project team, or even senior management or a 3rd party vendor or other key stakeholder, it still needs to come from the project manager.

We are generally a tough bunch. We aren’t usually too fazed by the things we hear and we try not to be too stressed out over the things we must say. After all, with project failure rates over 50% for our profession, we have to hand out our fair share of bad news on a regular basis.

That said, there are five things – at least for me – that project managers don’t like to have to say to those they work with and for. That can be the project team, it can be the customer, or it can be senior management within your own organization.

#1 “I am going to have to replace you”

It’s not fun firing one of your own direct reports and likewise it’s not fun kicking a talented project resource off of your project team. In fact, because resources are often stretched thin and you have specific skill needs for the project, things have to be really bad to want to replace one of those resources knowing getting a replacement with the right skill set will be very difficult. Of course, you’ll work to line up the replacement prior to releasing the one you have, but if your problem resource is causing major issues on the project, or with the customer, or is simply not performing or willing to comply, you have to do it. Before taking the most drastic of measures, weigh the pros and cons of keeping this resource on the team – and then make the right move for your project and the customer.

#2 “That’s going to cost more than the budget allows”

This is usually an outcome from one of two things: a customer expectation that was incorrectly set prior to handoff to the project manager or one or more requirements that were omitted or not defined in enough detail. Now you have a piece of work that needs to be done – and it’s not included in your schedule that you originally put together in your project management software tool. Either way, there is more work that is needed and the customer is unaware. And they are likely going to be very surprised and probably upset. Those are the calls I don’t like to make. Telling the customer that something is going to cost them several thousands of dollars – or much more – is never a fun thing to do. And if it was never the PM’s fault in the first place, it can be a very frustrating piece of news to have to pass along to the customer.

#3 “We won’t be able to finish on time”

Something’s happened making it impossible to deliver on a project milestone on time. No matter how much you use your project management software tool to rework the project schedule, you still can’t fix it. You still can’t make the schedule work – and now you’re left your only choice ….to tell the customer you can’t deliver on time. A few days usually won’t make much of a difference to the customer unless they have a hard deadline of their own. But pushing it out significantly can make this a very unpleasant piece of news to have to deliver to any customer.

#4 “The project is over budget”

Nothing goes over worse with the customer than to tell them that the project is going over budget and you need more funds. Ideally, it’s only slightly over budget and your company eats the difference. You rework the schedule in your project management software tool and move on. However, on large projects where issues with the client data needs or requirements caused the project to go over budget significantly, you really have no choice but to take this back to the customer. I’ve had to do this – and it isn’t fun. And it can – and has – resulted in the customer actually killing the entire project (once after we were already $1.25 million in to the project).

#5 “You’re going to be getting a call”

This statement is directed at your CEO or other company leadership. If you know the customer is very upset and that they the are escalating an issue, it’s best to give your senior leadership advanced notice of the incoming call before it happens – if at all possible. C-level leaders don’t like to get blindsided and it is never good for your career if they get blindsided due to something you did wrong or managed poorly. Own up to it, but at all costs let them know in advance.

Summary / call for input

Sometimes being a project manager can be very rewarding. And then sometimes you have to do things you don’t really want to do. This list represents my particular top 5 right now. What’s yours? What things do you finding yourself dreading to tell your customer or team or management? Please share and discuss.


brad-egelandBrad Egeland is a consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Creative Design, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. He is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad’s project management blog.



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  1. Christa says

    I hate telling the team we have to change priorities. As a leader, you drive the priorities regularly to maintain schedule. Then when a shift occurs, the team gets frustrated that their prior efforts are put on hold for something else. Getting momentum in a change in direction can be hard even in an agile world.

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