Project managers aren’t interested in listening to or reading about all the excuses that you might use to explain why something hasn’t been done. Nor are they interested in watching you try and get off the hook by listening to or reading about who you believe is to blame for your failure to do something.
If you haven’t done something that the project requires of you, or if you have made a mistake, the best thing you can do is admit it. The truth is best. Don’t send e-mails citing reasons why something hasn’t been done. Don’t write e-mails professing your apparent innocence and attributing blame on somebody else – if you haven’t done something, or if you can’t do it, tell somebody, tell the project manager. Feeble excuses don’t bring projects in on time or on budget, honesty is the only helpful option.
We’d rather know that something hasn’t been done, or that you can’t do it, as early as is possible – it gives us the chance to consider our options and still stand a chance of bringing the project in on schedule and close to budget. If you provide us with a barrage of e-mails with content similar to the above (blame-mail), the project is likely to incur schedule and budget hits (time is money).
If you admit the failure honestly, early and without blame-mail, you will be respected for your decision. It helps you, it helps the project manager, it helps the project, it helps the business.
The truth is best…admit it…admit it early.
I think that this is advice you can give to the people who work for you, not advice that you can generalise about.
Sadly, lots and lots of organisations run heavily to blame culture. Admiting you failed at something is both financial and career suicide. Worming out of things is the corporate way in many place; you don’t have to make blame stick elsewhere just make sure it doesn’t stick to you.
I’m not saying it is a good thing. I’m not saying I would work for an organisation like that. Just that they exist.
As a manager, of any kind, the best way to encourage your staff to admit when things aren’t going well is to be as open as possible about it yourself. When you make a mistake – broadcast it, make sure everyone knows it happened and that it’s OK.
I find it interesting that you use “explain why something hasn’t been done” and “failure” as synonyms. When managing projects, I’ve found that there are several reasons why things don’t get done. Laziness and/or incompetence on the part of the actioning party are two that jump to mind – and probably the two least common.
Most often I’ve found that people want to get something done but can’t because of unrealistic project schedules. In these cases people make excuses – often poor ones – to project manager because “it’s your fault for doing a bad job managing the project” doesn’t seem like a wise thing to say.
Even in organisations without blame culture telling your manager that failures he perceives to be yours are actually his is a dangerous thing to do.
If you want your team to tell you when they think you’ve messed up – not blame, just inform – you better make sure that they feel they can.
On the other hand … I could be wrong.
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