We’ve all been there. Sitting in a room where the client, a project stakeholder, or your boss is questioning you (perhaps in an angry-ish way) about why the project went terribly wrong. It’s uncomfortable, almost unbearable – and the temptation to blame someone can be almost impossible to ignore – especially because you know whose fault it was. But when you’re the project manager, no matter what happens, if the project goes badly its your fault. The project and the team working on it are your responsibility, and so if there is a problem its your job to handle it (or get help to handle it) before you find yourself in the hot seat.
So what’s a project manager to do when this inevitable situation arises? You have two choices: start making excuses or apologize and start working on a solution.
It makes me cringe when I see PMs selling out members of their teams as they are explaining how the project went off the rails (e.g., the developers were late, a team member called out sick, the designer missed some of the client’s changes). Worse yet is blaming the client (e.g., we got the comments late and didn’t have time to finish everything in time). None of this matters – it is still the PMs fault.
Placing blame and making excuses is the easier choice. It’s much harder to apologize and look for a solution to move on. The upside is that there’s a possibility that the apology itself might diffuse the situation right there. Even if it doesn’t, it pays to get comfortable with the fact that if you’re in charge of the project, with the possible exception of natural disasters, you are responsible for everything bad that might happen. So get ready to shoulder the responsibility and apologize if the worst happens. In the long run this is way better than alienating your team, blaming the client, or giving your boss the impression that you aren’t capable of effectively running a project after all.