I had lunch recently with a PM named Mark. Mark was feeling nervous. The next day, he was flying to a big stakeholder meeting and needed to give an update on the state of a big project he’s leading. Things had not been going that well. Mark didn’t feel confident in the technical feasibility of what his team was working on.
He said to me:
I want to be honest with them about what isn’t working, but I’m afraid they’ll freak out. I’m not confident in our approach either. How do I tell them the truth but not spook them?
It’s inevitable to be in this place. Especially if you value transparency and intellectual honesty. So what’s an intellectually-honest-wanting-to-inspire-confidence-but-not-feeling-too-confident PM to do?
Good news: there is a simple, three-question framework that will help you feel more confident going into any such conversation,
The three questions in the background
Try to go into any stakeholder conversation having an answer to the following three questions—especially when things are going sideways:
- what’s happened?
- what’s it mean?
- what’s next?
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