How do you handle project management issues when there’s a perceived problem with a client or internal customer that:

  1. You didn’t create,
  2. They did,
  3. But they think or claim you did create it?

Talking with one of our business owner coaching clients recently, he (let’s call him “John” for convenience) ran into this exact project management situation. His client called frantically saying the company president was upset over something John’s firm had done.

While the situation was bothersome and problematic, it wasn’t as big a deal as the company president made it out to be. And while John had precipitated the situation through his work for the client, the problem stemmed from his client not providing sufficient information for John’s firm to perform successfully.

Project Management Issues: A Turd on the Table Strategy

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Back to the original question: How do you handle this kind of project management situation – whether with a client or an internal customer?

The option John was considering when he called me was to apologize, rectify the situation as best possible, and wait to see whether he lost his biggest client.

I suggested a better project management technique was to employ a “we have a turd on the table” strategy.

He asked, “WHAT in the world is a ‘turd on the table’ strategy?”

I told him while it wasn’t smart to make his client appear culpable, there was no reason for John to fall on the sword and take full blame for a situation that arose through the client’s inattention and lack of active participation in an important process.

Instead, I suggested John act as if there was a turd on the table by acknowledging:

  • There’s a problem
  • Everyone wants to get rid of the problem
  • It really doesn’t matter right now how the problem got there.

The important project management outcome was getting it off the table and keeping it off the table in the future.

Instead of a mea culpa (or even a mea maxima culpa) and agonizing over losing a huge account, John crafted a couple of page response plan.

The project management plan went much lighter on the sword falling than he’d planned. Instead, it focused on two key sets of project management steps:

  • The first set of steps placed the current situation in the correct context along with appropriate tactics to rectify the minimal negative impact it had.
  • The more important set of project management steps spelled out a plan on what both he AND his client needed to do differently to follow the process they had not been following which led to this situation.

And what happened?

The client appreciated the strategic project management response, reviewed it internally for a few days, and John kept the account with the agreement to the proposed process changes. Success!

Do you ever need quick input on strategy and project management techniques?

No matter where you are globally, The Brainzooming Group is available to provide one-on-one  consultation such as we did with John. If you need a strategic sounding board to develop, vet, and improve ideas and strategies, we can help you quickly achieve the same type of success John did. All it takes is an email or phone call for us to get started. – Mike Brown


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The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your strategy and implementation efforts.