We were nearing the end of a lengthy and complex implementation. If we missed our deadline, an impending lawsuit was looming over our efforts like an angry cloud thick with rain. It was team meeting time.
We reviewed the list of deliverables again to ensure nothing was missed. There were two ancillary deliverables for this project that had not been discussed in awhile because they were both marked as complete. Outside, the thunder clapped and a dazzling bolt of lightening lit up the western sky. I casually mentioned these two deliverables to the group expecting everyone to agree that this work had been completed.
The account manager spoke first.
“Sam, this AB deliverable is complete, isn’t it?”
“I am not sure, Carol. I did not work on this piece. I can ask Whitney.”
“David, what about this CD deliverable? We finished that about 2 months ago, didn’t we?”
“Carol, I remember we had some discussions about it. But I think we are still waiting on feedback from the data group.”
“You mean it isn’t finished?”
“I don’t think so.”
I had recently inherited this project when the original project manager left our company. The client was expecting to review the Go Live schedule on our call tomorrow afternoon. It was obvious that with these two unresolved deliverables, there was no Go Live schedule.
I began making calls and determined the actual status on each deliverable. It wasn’t as bad as we thought, but neither one was ready to go. The potential for the impending lawsuit was still strong.
“Carol,” I began, “we can present this to the client in a couple of ways. One, we can be upfront and tell them what we know and what we are doing to resolve these issues. Two, we can ask them a few leading questions and see what they remember about each.”
“Dan, let’s be prepared to give them the bad news but let’s start off by asking the leading questions.”
You are never sure how a client will receive news that may affect their Go Live plans. Our leading questions caused the client to rethink the status on these deliverables for themselves. They began to question each other about the importance of either deliverable. It wasn’t much, but it bought us some face and we carefully worked in some details about what we knew. At the end of the conversation, the client was open to helping us find a resolution for both. The lawsuit was never mentioned.
Although you never want to hide information from a client, you can be careful about how much you tell them and when, as well as how you present the information. This conversation could have quickly gone bad if we had brashly indicated the issues upfront and caused ourselves to appear as unprofessional and untrustworthy. Communicating risk can be very risky. How have you communicated risk in a risky environment?