The topic of this post is about setting expectations with your boss and anyone you do work for, specifically around timing of work. As an experienced employee you will know roughly how long it takes to get a certain task done. So when someone asks you to do something and asks how long it will take you would think the obvious course of action is to tell them. But here is a secret I have learned from big business – its better to under promise and over deliver.
Take this common scenario where a project is given to you with a set deadline from upper management. You know from past experience of similar projects that the deadline is unrealistic.So you tell them that right? !!No.!!!
Heres an example of a common scenario where i work.
“Hey can you design this collateral for me? Its rush and I need it next week” says my manager. Issue is that collaterals take 2 weeks to make which includes design services (who have a heavy workload and other jobs to manage) and also the process needs to allow time for my manager to review. She is busy with other things and never turns things around fast.
So in the past I would say “Having a collateral built will take 2 weeks”. Which then leads to long discussions about how long it takes, and why does it take that long and how important the project is and an unhappy boss!
So having watched and learned from other projects and other people in the office I changed tack and now say “Sure no problem, I will need to rush it but I will do my best!”. And boss is happy! Then I start work knowing it won’t be ready in time.
Then when the unrealistic deadline starts to near , boss starts asking where it is I start blaming things and slowly pushing the time out. “I just spoke to the team – the project slipped a little and is going to be one more day because.. team are overloaded, your review took 2 days, I had another rush project, John was sick etc etc So I am expecting it tomorrow”. Blaming it on unforeseen circumstances and other people. And repeat pushing it out whenever asked till the 2 weeks have passed and the piece is ready. People seem much more accepting of delays, than you being honest up front.
And of course if the piece is ready before the 2 weeks then I look like a superstar – which is why, like Scotty on Star Trek, you should always pad your time estimates – you will look like a hard worker when you produce the work earlier than predicted!
For whatever reason, on the majority of projects (but not all), apologizing for the project being late seems to be more acceptable than being straight up front – despite the fact the project takes the same amount of time!
Part of this is because in many cases your boss is only asking because their boss is asking them up front when they brief them on the project and they need to give them a due date. Both bosses then usually become too busy to keep track of time and when the deadline actually was – so this process can work quite well – unless the project is very high visibility.
Give it a try next time!