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I cannot reach my deadline. What to do?

My manager is a very deadline specific person. Even though I am a trainee, he insists on a deadline for every small assignment that he gives. Now it so happens that I miss the deadline. And boy, he doesn’t like that at all! So how do I say that i missed the deadline without inviting his wrath? How to stop getting into his bad books?

P.S. I am not being lazy. Just that the assignments that he gives are not easy stuff, plus I am doing it in Delphi, which is new to me.

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marked as duplicate by Mark Trapp Nov 29 '11 at 16:17

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

@downvoter: care to comment why the -1? –  CyprUS Aug 3 '11 at 5:53
Small deadlines today might be big, expensive deadlines tomorrow. –  user1249 Aug 3 '11 at 9:26
Before he comes to you, go to him and say you are yet to complete the assigned task and that you are doing your best to complete it ASAP. Good luck, dude! –  karthiks Aug 3 '11 at 9:58
I usually start with: "What, I missed the deadline? FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFU~" –  Spoike Aug 3 '11 at 12:11
Good luck dude. I have worked under a deadline-obsessed boss. All this does is it drains your mental energy and does not help with the progress at all. –  Job Aug 3 '11 at 18:28

9 Answers 9

up vote 31 down vote accepted

It depends. Did you have anything to do with setting the deadline? If so, tell your boss "I missed the deadline" with the real, true reason why you missed it, formulated so that he or she can understand. The next time you contribute estimates towards a deadline take into account that you underestimated the previous time, and adjust accordingly, until you consistently hit deadlines. Also remember that an estimate is always TWO numbers: the average case estimate that you are more likely than not to hit (internally we use a 66% chance of finishing before that estimate), and a worst-case estimate that you are almost certain to hit (internally we use a 90% chance of finishing before that estimate). The spread between those two numbers indicates the amount of schedule risk you personally see in the implementation of your current task.

If you did not have any hand in setting the deadlines then they were arbitrary and relatively meaningless anyway (even if they were made by another developer, they are NOT you). Negotiate with your boss that you want to have influence over the actual setting of the deadlines and explain that until you do it's basically a game of chance wether you will hit the deadline or not.

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+1: I don't know any developer who can hit an arbitrary deadline with any accuracy. I've always worked with estimates with a % of accuracy. Managers who work any other way are just kidding themselves. 5 Easy Ways To Fail –  Justin Shield Aug 3 '11 at 8:24
I really need to find that quote about engineers needing to be involved in their scheduling because they are the only ones who can do it well. I know it's by Barry Boehm or Watts Humphrey, but I don't know which book it's in. –  Thomas Owens Aug 3 '11 at 12:13
+1, coding is creative process, and is inherently hard to schedule. –  Brad Aug 3 '11 at 14:15
+1 I've never thought of using two numbers to help with estimation. Nice. –  dreza Aug 6 '11 at 5:05

At a company I worked at there was a saying that it was ok to miss deadlines, but it was never ok to not give a warning when this happens.

Next deadline you get, do an assessment at half time and estimate if you are able to do it. If not, make a suggestion of what you can do. Typically, move the deadline or reduce the scope.

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Sometimes the concept of "complete" with regards to a deadline can be fungible. If you typically code solutions in A, B, C...Z fashion, where the code will not be complete unless you get all the way to step Z before the deadline, then you might think about a different approach.

Maybe you can implement A1, C1 and Z1 in much less time, and solve the problem to the extent that it's theoretically "done". Then you spend whatever time you have left getting it as close to the "ideal" solution as possible. Maybe you polish A1 some more. Maybe you implement step B, which it going to be necessary for your solution to scale, etc.

In an extreme case, you prototype something in the first 10% of the time, so it's a working end-to-end solution. At that point, you've already beat the deadline!

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Just tell the manager the truth and explain effectively why you missed it and what you will do to make up the missed work.

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If he set the deadline, then it isn't that you missed the deadline, it's that he set an unrealistic deadline.

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As Scotty said to Kirk when he was asked why he could always meet deadlines, he just doubled it :-). Works for me, and surprisingly it really does work. I have a reputation for being able to deliver ahead of schedule, hah.

You must be careful not to believe your own schedule though, because then you'll need to double your original doubled estimate! Work to half what you told everyone, because it always takes longer than you thought, but it always takes less than twice what you thought. Estimates come with practice.

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Make sure he is aware of factors that come up that will affect deadlines. If you can get a task done earlier, take advantage of that-it will help your average. Start tracking your work to help with your ability to set deadlines. It's enough of a guessing game as it is, so try and collect data and analyze your work habits.

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The best solution would have been to warn him that you were going to miss the deadline before you missed it. It's really important to communicate on the state of things with your manager and this is why he gives you deadlines for small assignments. He knows then at what point you are.

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You should talk to him before you actually miss the deadline, and explain to him that you think you'll miss it, and why. As soon as you know you wo'nt be able to do your work in due time, tell him, then he won't be surprised when you'll be late and/or will try to find a solution to help you.

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That will allow your Boss to manage more effectively by e.g. canceling that specific feature or shifting global deadline further or assigning more people to it. E.g. imagine you left your car in repair and you were told it will take 5 hours. It's better if repair would call you and tell if something went off schedule, than you come back in 5 hours to know it's additional +3 hours. –  Krom Stern Aug 3 '11 at 8:30
It will also prevent surprises to your manager. Managers HATE surprises. It's always better to be early with the bad news, to give him more time to react and to manage the situation. –  Alger Aug 3 '11 at 15:37

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