Saddled With An Unrealistic Deadline? Here's Some Good Horse Sense

By Doug DeCarlo

How do you respond when your project sponsor gives you a deadline that you feel is unrealistic? This was the topic of a panel discussion I participated in several weeks ago at the Project Management Institute's NYC Chapter meeting. Here's a rundown of what the panel and audience members had to say. Notice how the responses align themselves with The 4 Business Questions (BQs) of eXtreme Project Management.
  • BQ #1. Who needs what and why?

    Find out why the date was chosen. Ask, "What is it that's driving the deadline you are giving us?" In some cases, it's a do-or-die date (like Y2K). But most often, the deadline will not be a drop-dead date. A good follow up question is, "What will be the impact on the business of not meeting that date?" The combination of both questions can cause the requestor to re-think the date.

  • BQ # 2. What will it take to do it?

    Ask yourself: "How do I know the date is not doable?" In God we trust. All others should bring data. Also, be able to show what you will need in order to make it happen. Tip: Do a quick hip pocket risk analysis. How? Identify 5 to 10 events outside of your control that could prevent the date from being met.

  • BQ # 3. Can you get what it takes?

    Be proactive: If after you've made your case and you can't get more resources or time, then tell your sponsor, what you can likely deliver in the requested time frame and what could prevent that from happening. Insight: People are often willing to accept something less than they originally wanted as long as they can have something useful by the desired date.

  • BQ # 4: Is it worth it?

    Despite popular opinion, most sponsors are reasonable people. We tend to vilify them as being uncompromising, but this can be a smoke screen for our own fear of authority figures or lack of assertiveness. If your sponsor will still not budge after you've made your best effort to meet the request, then you have to ask yourself. "Should I take on this insurmountable opportunity? Can I decline? And, if so, what are my options?"

So, once again, when you get to the bottom of it all, being a project manager is not so much about common sense. It's mainly about having the courage to use common sense... to stand up for what's true because it's in the best interest of the project, the business and yourself.

eXtremely yours,


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