How To Effectively Work To Deadlines

One of my favourite authors, Douglas Adams, wrote about his publishers’ deadlines: “I love deadlines; I love the whooshing sound they make as they pass by!” Learn More

When You Have An Unreasonable Deadline

You know it will happen, if it hasn’t already! That project you are working on has suddenly been brought forward and the deadline is now imminent. How could they do it to me, you ask! They are guaranteeing a lower quality result, if they insist on that deadline!

So what can you do?
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When You’re Asked To Do Something You Can’t

Balancing quality and efficiency isn’t easy these days. Demands from customers and bosses have never been greater and sometimes you feel like throwing your hands in the air and saying “No way!” (or words to that effect!)

What can you do if you know that meeting a specific deadline will result in poor quality or corners being cut?

It might help if you asked the stakeholder “Will you approve the steps needed to meet that delivery date?

They will probably ask for clarification. This will then allow you to make the point you wanted to make. “Your deadline will not allow me/us/the company to achieve the level of quality you would insist on”.

If they ask what steps you would suggest, tell them that a shorter deadline would force you to deliver reduced quality or quantity, less precision or less formality. Get the stakeholder to recognise these results in advance. Then tell them what will have to happen in order to alleviate these outcomes, like more or better resources or a changed time limit.

If no change can be made, make a note of what happens along the journey, not with a view to casting blame for the poor quality of the job, but to help you reflect on how to handle similar situations in the future.

Also, highlight why this seems to be happening more and more. Is your time management poor, or do you need some project management coaching? Analyse what you can control and what is outside your control before casting blame or criticism in another’s direction.

You may be able to negotiate the deadline in some way. And note that we said ‘negotiate’, not ‘concede’. You have to have something of value that you can offer the other party in order for them to accept the deadline movement. You’re the only person who will be able to answer that in detail, but think about how the change in deadline might affect quality or performance or results.

Commit to achieving those results, and the stakeholder will realise that, if you are supported, the extra time given was worth the wait.

So, learn to determine what can be done, rather than what can’t, and that will help you to ascertain the direction you need to go. Rather than saying “there’s no way”, you may end up saying “there is a way…I just have to find it!

Thanks again,


Sean McPheat

Managing Director

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