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What to do when your client asks for an impossible new deadline

Deadlines
Convincing
Health / Stress / Burn-Out
Managing Expectations

6 December, 2017

Nikhil decided to state clearly that his team would not be able to meet a new deadline when one of his customers tried to move the deadline forward.

Problem

I once had to handle a situation where my customer pressured my team to move a deadline forward. We were quite sure we would meet the original deadline by the end of the quarter, as planned, but the customer then asked for a solution within two weeks. At one point, the account manager involved engineers in my team, who didn't know how to react and replied that they'd try their best to meet the new deadline. However, we were not in a situation where we didn't know if we could make it or not - deep down we knew we could not. We had to work it out with the customer.

Actions taken

In this type of situation, ensure you don't set wrong expectations. Sometimes things are simply not feasible and you should communicate that. I listed all the things that would be released and then added the time required for each part. I tried to justify my deadline by making the situation real to them, with actual time constraints for each of the pieces explained. It wasn't about prioritization, as this work was already my team's highest priority. It was simply not possible to complete the work within the customer's new timeframe. Although this wasn't what the customer wanted to hear, we ensured that we didn't cause any further frustrations by giving them a sense of false hope.

Lessons learned

When you know a deadline cannot be met, it is crucial to avoid future frustration by communicating the reality of the whole situation, with facts. The key is not to fall into the trap of accepting the impossible in order to avoid a difficult talk early on, as this will lead to a much more difficult talk further down the line.


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