How To Deal With Unrealistic Deadlines For Project Completion

The inability to meet the established deadline for a software development project completion can be disastrous in many different ways. It can result in burnout as your team works overtime to try and meet the deadline.

Moreover, it can lead to the software being released before it is ready. It can also lead to launch delays, which can hurt your company's reputation and leave you exposed to competitors. There can also be significant budgetary ramifications as a result of missing a deadline.

Not all hope is lost.  Projects can be completed fast and efficiently, even if unrealistic deadlines have been set.  Successful project completion requires clear communication, from developers to project stakeholders.  You may also have to be willing to accept that a deadline is a deadline, and you'll have to find a way to meet it.

Why Do Projects Tend To Have Unrealistic Deadlines?

A wide range of factors can result in an established deadline being unrealistic. For instance, the client may have set an arbitrary deadline because they simply don't understand the extensive process of software development.

Sometimes the client may only be interested in getting it done as quickly and cheaply as possible, and even expecting a high level of quality, regardless of whether this is feasible with the resources available. Another reason that the deadline may be unrealistic is due to the software specifications being unclear or incomplete.

Unfortunately, sometimes the factors for a deadline are outside your control. To address this issue, you should assess and discern which factors can be addressed by your team, and which can’t, and therefore what can be done within the parameters of your project scope and budget.

Business Conditions

Deadlines are affected by certain business conditions. This can include suppliers, licenses and government regulations, competitor software, client expectations, and more. 

Some of these conditions may be under your control. For example, managing client expectations is something that you can control. You can communicate with the client directly, after all to ensure that their expectations are realistic.

Some factors may be out of your control.  For instance, perhaps the deadline is set because you're trying to launch your new app before a competitor launches theirs. Or, the client wants to launch the app on a specific holiday or for a particular event. You may not be able to change the deadline, so you  must work within the constraints of the project.

Strategies for Dealing with Unrealistic Deadlines

If a deadline proves beyond reasonable and cannot be changed, it is crucial to employ risk management strategies for your team to manage expectations while maximizing productivity. The following are a few such strategies that you may want to consider implementing to deal with an unrealistic deadline:

Communicate Expectations with Client and Team Members

The first step to take when dealing with an unrealistic deadline is to communicate the situation clearly and transparently with your client. Let them know that while you understand their urgency, software development is a complex process and that resources are finite.

Be sure that the client understands this is not due to a lack of effort or dedication but rather a result of software development being a complex process requiring precision.

It’s essential to thoroughly explain the process, and each step has an expected timeline, and to therefore plan accordingly. When communicating with the client, be transparent and honest without blaming anyone. Instead, simply address the issues around the unrealistic deadline and ensure that all perspectives are addressed.

Look for Connections to Similar Projects Within The Company

Projects can often have overlapping elements.  Examine how your project could overlap with other teams within your company who are working with the same client or deadline. If you can align your software project to a similar one, this may create an opportunity as a shortcut to achieve faster results.

For example, suppose your software is going to be integrated with software already created by another team. In that case, you can share information and resources to make the software development process more efficient. By having software developers and engineers coordinate their efforts, you'll have a better chance of meeting your deadline.

Consider The Consequences of Missing (Or Extending) The Deadline

One of the primary expectations in software development is to ensure that deadlines are met, no matter how unrealistic they may be. Sometimes, a deadline is established for financial considerations.

As such, you must consider the consequences of missing or extending your deadline. For instance, will missing the deadline (or even extending it) damage the reputation of the company? Will it compromise the company’s financial position? Or will there be minimal fallout if the deadline isn’t met?

You should also keep in mind how missing a deadline or having it extended can affect the productivity and morale of your team. Consider the consequences of missing a deadline carefully, and make a plan accordingly.

Adjust Cost and Scope of Project to Align With Time Constraints

Adjusting the cost and scope of software development can sometimes help you to better align with unrealistic software project deadlines. While this may not be a viable option for all software development projects, it can be used as an effective method to help you better manage client expectations and ensure that deadlines are met without compromising software quality.

Search for Opportunities to Improve

Some software projects are simply too large in scope to complete within the given timeframe. If this is the case, it may be beneficial for you to search for opportunities to improve software development projects to make their scope more manageable.

For example, evaluate your existing processes to see if they can be improved in any way and look for opportunities to improve software engineering processes or software design methodologies.

You should also evaluate your team's communication and collaboration capabilities. Improvements in these areas can help improve your team's overall efficiency and effectiveness, thereby allowing you to meet your deadlines with more ease.

Learning From Unrealistic Deadlines

There are cases in which deadlines are not flexible as a result of certain business conditions. However, you should use your experience and expertise to revise an established deadline if it proves to be unrealistic.

In many cases, simply communicating effectively with stakeholders and conveying expectations is enough to either meet the deadline or have it extended. However, you can successfully manage even the most unrealistic deadlines if you implement the right strategies and actions.

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