Product Manager’s broken promise — how to minimize the damage

A calming image for the otherwise stressful scenario

Stakeholders have to heavily rely on the Product Manager’s promises. It is essential to communicate in a way that you never give a direct promise with an exact date unless you are 99.9% sure this will happen.

However, things change.

The Product Manager’s duty is to always make the best choice at the current time knowing what he or she knows. Because of that, there will come a time when you can’t fulfill your promise and have to go back on your word. What to do then? How to deliver bad news without jeopardizing one’s integrity and other’s trust?

First of all, make sure to make big deal out of this. Call a meeting with the party that you will have to disappoint and don’t disclose the subject of the meeting ahead of time. Own your promise and assure the other party that you always meant to deliver on it. Empathize with the fact that it’s not going to happen. Take the time to present the data and the reasons why the promise won’t be kept. Make sure the other party understands the whole context and the reason you have to make the call that you made.

Try to offer an alternative: a different ETA perhaps, a smaller scope, or simply owe this person a favor. Stress that this is not a new norm, that it’s the greatest value for you to keep your word, to deliver on the promises, and not to disappoint the stakeholders.

You may still face anger and your decision process may be questioned. In some cases, it might be justified and you will reverse the change however in most of the time you can only offer an escalation to your manager who will probably back you up anyway. However, the whole point of investing so much time into talking about a broken promise is to avoid that. To make sure that though this time you did not deliver, you should be expected to keep the promises in the future most of the time whenever only you can.

Good luck developing your products!

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Dr Bart Jaworski

I am a senior Product Manager at Microsoft. My online courses have helped thousands to develop their Product Management careers. I would like to help you too!