Report Performance (especially if it is behind plans) is a responsibility of a project manager (according to PMBOK). Very often adequate and accurate reporting of insufficient performance will provoke a negative reaction of a project sponsor. Consequences may be fatal, including project closure and a discharge of the PM.

Having all this in mind, shall the project manager always (!) be honest and accurate with his/her reports about poor project performance?

p.s. I wrote a blog post about this very problem: How to Be Honest and Keep a Customer

  • 4
    There is no good way to announce bad news :)
    – Lipis
    Commented Mar 19, 2011 at 0:03
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    FYI, being dishonest is against PMI's code of ethics. Burying bad news is not ethical either.
    – ashes999
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 19:07
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    IMO, being dishonest is against any code of ethics :-)
    – Tiago Cardoso
    Commented Jul 18, 2011 at 11:40

11 Answers 11


You should always deliver all the facts as objectively as possible. And as soon as possible. There is one exception if you think you can have a number of alternatives or workarounds/plan of actions quickly available. Then you can wait until you have all information to present to your sponsor and/or steerco: both the problem and the solution(s). But there shouldn't be too much time between the discovery of the bad news and your communication about it.

Once they smoke you're holding back information, all trust you've worked hard to establish will be gone in an instant, and it is very difficult to regain.

Also, make sure they hear the story from you. You have no control over the way other people present the facts, and this can also create bias between you and the sponsor if he hears it again from you, but a bit differently ...


Early and Often

Preferably with a solution or two to propose.


When communicating with project sponsors, well, when communicating with pretty much everyone in a project team I find that open and straightforward communication usually is the best way to go. When we discuss bad news it should be also communicated as soon as possible as, on a general level, you can treat bad news as a project risk which you should manage. So basically I agree with Stephan on that (+1).

However the thing I learned to take into consideration is the character of the project sponsor. Actually it does matter how you deliver bad news to and the message itself should be baked in a way adjusted to the addressee.

While I don't advise to delay the message or just use some lies I know people who I can share the naked truth with and those who need a very specific approach, like selling the truth as otherwise it wouldn't be accepted or covering people who did their best but project is all red despite their efforts etc.

In short: PM should be honest and accurate with their reports but the form of the message does matter and should vary depending on who is the project sponsor.

  • +1 for vary the way the message is delivered based on the target to receive the message.
    – Tiago Cardoso
    Commented Jul 18, 2011 at 14:01

Factually, clearly and with no hint of blame. And preferably with some solutions ready.


Try using the Sandwich Method:

Good News – Bad News – Good News

Start saying something like, "We have a promising opportunity, engulfed along with a little unfortunate situation. But holistically the situation still looks under control due to some quick mitigation recommended by the project team."


This may setup an infinite loop since the article references this post ;) ProjectSmart has some good recommendations on how to not deliver bad project news here: http://www.projectsmart.co.uk/how-do-you-deliver-bad-news-about-your-project.html

I particularly enjoy "The Grenade":

This is where the messenger walks into a crowded room (typically full of executives), delivers the bad news with all of its horrendous consequences without any warning, and then leaves. This is totally unacceptable, ineffective and not sustainable...primarily for the PM's career.


In these cases your honesty reflects your accountability, usually speaking truth might requires strength for a hour or long but the relief you will get after that will be priceless. I always believe that, Nothing is impossible to achieve and if I fail then possibly I have missed the short path to the same destination. Don't hesitate while being honest, it might be not the best policy in some cases, and be optimistic.

If you spread the bad news and will come up with ideas to overcome it. Yes, they will trust you. Everybody knows, every project has risk and it may occur at anytime. So the baseline is , Spread bad news with ideas to remove/recover it.

P.S. I am sorry to say that but spreading bad news cannot be a Win-Win case. "Reality".


I agree with angeline. Always deliver in person - please don't follow the email suggestion. Yes it may give them time to think it over - or stew to their boiling point!

Deliver the message clearly and concisely, accept responsibility, offer alternatives, and state your recommendation for moving forward. It leaves the sponsor with the ability to make a decision - even if it is to accept your recommendation - so you have buy-in and support going forward. Offering alternatives and a recommendation tells the sponsor that you have done your homework and are being proactive. Delivering in person builds trust.

This approach goes back to Harold Kerzner's first Edition of his text book, considered the bible in many circles!


When problems arise, people care about two things: 1) how bad it is, i.e. what is the IMPACT on the project? 2) what you are doing about it, i.e. what is the SOLUTION?

So when communicating bad news, be crystal clear about what it means and what options you have identified to resolve the situation. Project sponsors typically don't have a lot of time and don't appreciate being thrown a problem with no solution in sight. By articulating clearly what the problem means for the project (and the sponsor) and presenting solutions, you give confidence to your sponsor that things can be resolved, you show them that you are proactive and can be trusted, and this is a very effective basis for getting them to actually help you (for example if you need them to make a decision or to exercise their influence to get things going).

In terms of conveying the message, I think that especially in situations where the impact is high, face-to-face communications work best. When you talk to your sponsor, also remember to validate with him/her how the bad news (and the way forward!) should be communicated to the wider project stakeholders' audience (in some cases the message may need to come from the sponsor for example).


Conveying bad news over mail with relevent reasons and possible alternate solutions would be of lesser impact then converying over a conversation. That is what i believe as in the former case the person will have more time to comprehend what just happened.

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    Are you kidding? Commented Jul 4, 2011 at 10:49

Interesting Question...Thanks for asking it... Delivering bad news needs tricky communication skills...No one likes bad news.. When you deliver a message that starts with "We have a Problem..." raises panic button to some person...of course there are other people who prefers direct communication...

Where as if you start your sentence with "We have a situation here..." that gives the other person to understand the situation first and then you can tell the impact of situation...

To deliver any news that can impact the project or business you can communicate the mesage in three parts: 1. Explain the situation what has happened. 2. Explain how you feel about the situation and what you want the situation to be. 3. How the situation will affect the Project Sponsor and Business.

I created an detailed article based on this question: How to deliver bad news to Project Sponsor

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