The 'People Challenge: Bad News'

Delivering Successful Technology Programmes: The “People Challenge: Bad News”

If you missed the first part of this series you can find it here.

This second instalment focuses on the unpleasant task of delivering “bad news” to a senior stakeholder/the programme or the executive. There are a few principles you can apply to this situation.

It is a myth that people don’t want to hear bad news. The truth is that people prefer to hear bad news so they can process it, accept it and then build a plan to mitigate it.

The same holds true in a business scenario; if you procrastinate, thinking that the situation might right itself or a miracle might intervene on your behalf, you will be taking a huge risk with your delivery as well as your reputation. I’m not suggesting you “cry wolf” every time something starts to wobble, what I am suggesting is that you are honest and open with your updates and if things start to go side-ways your senior stakeholders are not blindsided. Is this a delicate balance? Absolutely!


  • When a situation occurs or information is received that there is a serious concern, do an impact assessment to gain an understanding of what this news actually means.
    • Does it result in a material impact on a delivery deadline, major milestone or dependency?
    • Is there a financial, legal, regulatory or reputational impact?
    • Who is impacted and to what extent?
    • Is it time critical, will it get worse over time?
    • What is the probability you will find a solution to avoid any negative impact? 
  • Once you fully understand the issues you will be well equipped to inform others with confidence.  You may not always have the luxury of time to do a full assessment but make sure you think it through.
  • Give the bad news early to provide the team as much time as possible to help find a solution and avoid or minimise the negative impact.
  • Once you share the news you also share the problem, you can ask for assistance from the wider team. “A problem shared is a problem halved.
  • The longer you hold on to it the less time others will have to help remediate the situation.

Whenever I start working with a new team I always have the same discussion with them, I tell them if something starts to go wrong tell me. If your milestone is coming up in 3 weeks and you know with 2 weeks left that there is a high probability you will miss it, tell me. Don’t wait until the day before to say you are not going to make it. With 2 weeks to go I have a fighting chance of helping you, with one day to go there is very little that can be done.

You will have to deal with bad news, deadlines will be broken, milestones will be missed however if you handle the situation in a responsible manner you will minimise the negative fallout. Give yourself and the business the best chance to succeed.

Written by Donna Matthews, Managing Principal at Piccadilly Group