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Meeting an impossible project deadline: The sequel

It’s a topic that comes up time and time again, how do you meet an impossible project deadline? We’ve written about completing projects on time before, but we think we may have missed a trick or two, so read on for more actionable solutions for meeting seemingly impossible project deadlines…

Why we should avoid overruns

Tight deadlines are no new thing in the project profession. The majority of projects come in either late, over budget, or both! Late project delivery is destined to be costly in one form or another. Either in terms of resources or staff costs, or in terms of reputation. Project overruns never sit well with a client, as they likely rely upon a completion date for a launch, or for fitting with other business plans.

So, when given an impossible end date, should we just admit defeat and accept the fact that this date will not be met, unless we go over budget to make it happen? Or are there things that we can do as project managers to control and correct this situation?

Question, question, question

There is always a reason for a deadline being impossible to meet. What’s yours? This isn’t about playing the blame game, but about asking why things have taken longer than they should have. Only by questioning what has caused the hold-up can you shoot to resolve the situation.

Perhaps it was poor planning at the initiation stage and it's a matter of renegotiating? Or maybe there have been delays due to supplies or clients dragging their heels – can your staff get ahead on other tasks whilst waiting in order to not halt productivity further? Has there been scope creep, or are staff overstretched? Do you need to make cuts to scope or onboard more team members? Whatever the issue, identifying it is the first step to solving it.

Go over budget

It's not just inexperience which leads project managers to promise the moon on a stick to a client! Many of us are guilty of it. Whether to gain much needed business when work is drying up, or in order to win a big client. The completion date can be a deal breaker for many projects. But committing to a tighter deadline than you can realistically achieve is a big problem! It is only going to result in you letting the client down, your reputation being tarnished, and your employees feeling demotivated.

Throwing money at the problem is not usually great business sense, but in the instance of an impossible deadline it can work. If extra budget could speed things along, then it could be the remedy. Go back to your client and have an honest conversation about the situation to see if they can bring any more to the table. Alternatively, absorb the costs yourself. Making the call to sacrifice profit in the short term can be beneficial in the long term if it saves face or lands you future work with that client.

Get creative

When your back is against the wall, it’s time to get creative! Think along the lines of setting milestones earlier than they really are. This will reduce procrastination and give you a contingency so that it is not the end of the world if the tasks overrun. Likewise, reassess your planning and scheduling. Are there tasks that can be completed simultaneously? Can any unnecessary meetings be cancelled, or the number of attendees reduced?

Lead by example, and up your own efficiency. Check emails less frequently, use time management tools, and generally work smarter, not harder. And encourage your teams to follow your lead. Outside of the box thinking can be a lifesaver for inconceivable project due dates.

Make sure it doesn’t happen again

Even with top time management experience and all the best efforts, some deadlines are just unachievable. The best thing you can do in these situations is to be honest and upfront with the client, the team, and any stakeholders.

As well as this, be sure that you learn from it! Establish where the errors have been and be sure not to repeat mistakes in the future. You will have gained a far better understanding of time management, managing resources and risks. You may have also established that there are gaps in yours or your teams’ skills on knowledge. Consider filling these gaps with training courses and skill sharing.

If you haven’t done so already, have a read of our How to meet seemingly impossible project deadlines blog post for more tips and tricks.