How to give an update where you come out shining (even if there’s been a ton of challenges)

“So where are you with the Beckham project?” asks your CEO.

You’re handed a microphone as you silently try to untangle weeks of misunderstandings, delays and disappointments into a tail of triumph over adversity.

Like Andy in the Shawshank Redemption, there’s no way you’re going to get out of this smelling of roses.

How DO you put a shine on sh!t?

You can’t lie.

However, you can take Monty Python’s advice and ? look on the bright side of life ?: here’s a structure that you could simply pull out your pocket.

So when you’re called upon to deliver an update – even if it’s on the spur of the moment – you turn into this:

Yeah, baby. Let’s eat dragon meat.

Here’s how to do an update that slays your audience.


Here’s an example of a bad update:

“Yesterday we received the designs back from SmartFix and realised they were wrong.  So now we’ve got to send them back off again and hopefully they’ll get done before the end of the month.

It’s really annoying because we thought we’d had everything sorted out after all the meetings and phone calls of the past couple of weeks.

Now we have to see if the other suppliers can work on a shorter lead time to complete Phase Two.”

Why is it bad?

  • Ends on a negative: your colleagues and managers want to know that you’ve got this in hand and if it goes tits up, you’ve got a Plan B
  • The use of weak words like:
    • ‘have to / got to’ : this could infer someone has a gun to your head.
    • ‘hopefully’ (can you rely on hope?  Having a Plan B would be more reassuring).
    • ‘It’s really annoying’ doesn’t stir up confidence.  It’s OK if you’re referring to the past but not for the current situation.  Could sound a little stroppy.

Instead use the ACTION-OBSTACLE-OVERCOME update

It goes like this:

What did I accomplish yesterday?

“We evaluated the designs from Smartfix.”

What will I do today?

“We’re sending them back today with our annotations and amendments, and will renegotiate the completion date to xxxxxx.”

What obstacles are impeding my progress?

“There are concerns that this will have a knock on effect with Phase Two.”

How will I overcome them?

“We’re eager to press on with Phase 2.  As a result:

  • we’ve spoken to the CEO of Smartfix and gone through amendments with her, instead of the design team.
  • we’ll renegotiate the lead time for the next phase.
  • we’ll also make preliminary enquiries with Carlos who did the designs for the Electrox project, as a back up.”

Why is it good?

  • It deals with actions, e.g. ‘we’re sending them back’ as opposed to negative feelings such as ‘annoying’.  This infers assumes moving forward rather than punching the filing cabinet.
  • The emotion mentioned is eagerness, more positive than ‘annoying’
  • You have a Plan B and C.



In short, the structure of the ACTION-OBSTACLE-OVERCOME update is:

  • past accomplishments;
  • today’s actions:
  • obstacles impeding progress;
  • how I’ll overcome them.

So next time, you have an update, think ACTION-OBSTACLE-OVERCOME and ye shall slay those dragons, my friend!



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