Project Management Institute

To tell the truth





It seems that no matter where you go, people hesitate to share bad news about a project. My life as a global nomad recently took me to Asia Pacific for five weeks. Working across four locations, I collaborated with a range of people from a tremendous cultural gallimaufry—and reluctance to tell the truth was everywhere.

Ultimately, it's the responsibility of an organization, its management, the project manager and team leaders to create an environment of trust and openness that enables people to feel that they have “permission to tell the truth” about a project's progress. Using the formal structure of project management facilitates honesty among the members of a team, whereas they might ordinarily feel it would be rude or inappropriate to offer an opinion or observation.


The initial project planning document is the first place to highlight perceived risks, assumptions, exclusions and issues inherent in a project. This provides a forum to challenge the validity of a project and also to forecast its likely success and anticipated business value.

The use of risk management processes empowers individuals to tell the truth about a project. The structured format permits team members to document the potential for future issues but also proactively recommend how they can be resolved. Team members can express their concerns while tapping into innovation, experience and creativity in seeking solutions to perceived critical risks. This enables the project leader to assess the commitment, experience and ownership of deliverables and project outcomes by the different team members.

Providing feedback is often a challenge, but one way to structure those comments is to use British author and consultant Edward de Bono's “six thinking hats.” Representing different aspects of perception—the black hat representing caution, for example, while the red hat symbolizes emotion—the hats allow leaders to balance their perceptions and prepare more comprehensive feedback. This enables recipients to gain a wider commentary upon their performance.

It's important to ensure all stakeholders are aware of and understand the corporate strategy right from the start. This allows them to prioritize the project and see how its success or failure—as well as any issues that may arise—will be viewed throughout the organization. A clear understanding of strategy also helps clarify key objectives and outcomes, and assists in defining the performance expectations that will be used to assess individual contributions and success.

Engaging your team members means recognizing and respecting individual sensitivities and preferences—enabling trust, teamwork and, most importantly, honesty.PM

Sheilina Somani, PMP, is owner of U.K.-based Positively Project Management, providing consulting, mentoring and development services.

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