LearnProjects Gone Bad Part 1: What Now?


Adam Clark
writes on June 17, 2013

This is part one in a two-part series on Projects Gone Bad. Next week we’ll look at how to avoid this problem and keep projects running smoothly. This week, we’ll look at what do when projects have already taken a turn for the worst.

We’ve all been there. What started out as a great project ends up souring. Maybe it’s your fault, maybe it’s your client’s fault. Whatever the reason, you find yourself with a client who is unhappy and no longer has faith in you.

Just in case you think this is uncommon, it’s not. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. If you are a freelancer or an entrepreneur, you need to prepare for those times when projects don’t go as planned.

Maybe your in that place right now. You have a project that has gone bad, your client is unhappy and the trust between you is damaged. What now?

Be Honest

It may seem like obvious advice, but you would be surprised at how tempting is to shift the blame. Self-preservation is a strong motivator and before we know it, we’ve rationalized a million reasons why it’s not our fault, why we’re not to blame and how we can weasel our way out of the problem.

But no one likes to hear excuses or finger-pointing. In fact, this will only cause more alienation and loss of trust. Honesty is the single best way to salvage a project gone bad. Be honest about what has gone wrong and take responsibility for it.

Have a Solution

Unless you want your client to panic, don’t just state the problem and leave them to figure it out. After being honest and taking responsibility, offer a solution. Or better yet, offer several solutions. Be creative and think of ways to turn a problem into an opportunity. If you don’t have a solution yet, you at least need to have ideas for the next steps involved in reaching a resolution. Clients will respect this more than you know.

Put Your Client’s Needs Above Your Own

Be willing to do what it takes to make the problem right, even if it’s not your fault. I once had a project go bad because I failed to set the right expectations. The client kept adding more and more work to the scope and, not wanting to disappoint them, I agreed to it all without extending our timeline. Needless to say, I soon found myself in a position where I was over-committed and unable complete the work.

Even though the project was more than 80 percent complete, I chose to take a drastic cut in my payment and help them find someone who could complete the project. Technically, I could have fought for 80 percent of my fee, but instead I chose to put their needs ahead of my own. A lot of trust was built in that moment and, to this day, that client still comes back to me for additional projects.


Be honest, have a solution and put your client’s needs above your own. We’ve all been on the receiving end of bad customer experiences. Think about a time when this happened to you. What did the person or business do that made you feel worse or made you feel valued? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


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3 Responses to “Projects Gone Bad Part 1: What Now?”

  1. As per my personal experience sometimes client’s demands make us to learn something new from their projects.

  2. Being honest with the client is the most important thing, so many times have I seen a project going bad and the PM will just keep it quiet until like a week before then deadline, then let the client know the project isn’t going to be finished on time.

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