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I work for a software company. After a few meetings with this one client, it turned out that our current system is not suitable with their business flow, so we need to modify our system to be able to work effectively for him. We negotiated a deadline extension.

The deadline passed a week ago. However, while we worked on it, we had another problem from another client that was a higher priority.

Our current estimation is that we are about 90% complete. We believe that we need a few days or a week at most for our software system are ready for them to implement.

Over the past few days, the client kept asking about how we are progressing. He is a kind person, typical of Javanese people (like us). Our company is worried that this has let them down.

How can we communicate to the client that we recognise we are past the deadline and give them the new estimated completion date?

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Your company is worried they have let the client down? Stop worrying, you have let them down. – Kilisi Feb 24 at 9:45
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I think the real problem is - deadline == promise. Breaking promise == failure. Doesn't matter how good your product is. Setting expectations (e.g. delivery date that's realistic) is vitally important to success – Sobrique Feb 24 at 11:19
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The other alternative - just be honest with your client. There aren't many things that are as easy to say 'definitely, 5 days of work involved', and 'definitely, people available to do it'. Because people leave, go ill, you find unexpected problems, delays, etc. Communication is what makes it a success when that happens. – Sobrique Feb 24 at 11:31
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So... let me understand... the project was due LAST week? and your asking THIS week about what you should do? Will you wait until NEXT week to let the customer know or what? Why didn't you let the customer know two weeks ago that you might be a couple days late? Last week that you had an emergency? – WernerCD Feb 24 at 16:40
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Well, at least the project is 90% complete, so you only have the other 90% remaining. – Dan Staley Feb 24 at 18:12
up vote 105 down vote accepted

The right thing to do is to tell them as early as possible that you will be missing the deadline.

The problem for the customer is usually not that you are missing the deadline. The problem is usually that you are missing the deadline while they expect you to hit it. They may be preparing to switch from an old system to a new one nine days from now. If you tell them it will take a month longer, that is often not a problem (other than having to use the old system, which probably ran for years, for one month more). But if they are doing the switch, turning off the old system, and your software isn't ready, that's a HUGE problem.

So the most important thing is that the customer has at any time a good idea when the project will be finished. If you are missing a deadline it is essential to inform them far ahead so they can minimise the damage. Telling them only when the deadline is missed is asking for lawsuits with huge amounts of damages, which can easily be prevented.

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+1 Well, you surely understand the client side condition. It is always good to really know their thought. Opinion like this can drew their circumstances. And reminds me that maybe they're waiting their new system to switch on, because our presentation and demo attract their attention and interest at first. So you've just motivated me pal. That I won't let them down after this whole missed deadline. Thank's! – adadion Feb 24 at 10:04
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I'd like to add that, in any place with a good IT person, they won't even think about doing the real switch until they've tested extensively. However, given that not many places have good IT people who are listened to and bosses willing to let their subordinates dictate some of their job, this may well not happen, so don't count on it. – QPaysTaxes Feb 24 at 13:43
    
Totally agree. It's just bad management when a company doesn't communicate properly with clients. – Matt Feb 25 at 1:36
    
@QPaysTaxes I agree with that, I can rely on it, but luckily I know their IT staff are pretty good with their system and management, but there will be another case perhaps on other next project. So, we just should give our best. – adadion Feb 25 at 4:13

Be not ashamed of mistakes and thus make them crimes.

You messed up. How big I don't know. I would be overtly honest to your client. They did nothing wrong. What you have left is your integrity, your ability to provide a good finished product and communication.

Not telling your client what is going on is truly a crime that they will not forgive you for. Don't beat around the bush, don't blame them, don't blame anyone else, simply tell them that the project was bigger than you thought and you wanted a great finished product. Try not to underestimate how far you are behind. You say one week, maybe you need to tell them two. Start a very clear and honest communication channel as soon as possible.

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Great quote, certainly bold for my last paragraph in the post. And quite good suggestion, 1 week, tell them two. Just thinking to get client, without focusing what should we do next, next, and the next. And to be honest, I, myself, would feel uneasy to tell the truth, you know, like, why took so long, then make an excuse. Because we probably lost 1 good customer, and might be bad reputation for us, a startup. – adadion Feb 24 at 8:14
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+1 At this point (if you haven't been doing so already - which you should!), communicate, communicate, communicate. Make sure you give yourself enough slippage to ensure that the new deadline is achievable and will not slip further. – Jane S Feb 24 at 8:27
    
@JaneS Actually, we still communicate intensely, every morning, but not reporting our doing at the detail. And my boss personally give private deadline at 5 days. Just to make sure our system are tested and works perfectly, and give the client the exact answer. Even he once have a thought to cancel this project, because he thought our client are upset enough and hopeless to us. Just for information, my boss are 1 of the 4 people that I mention in my question's comment. He works hard too. – adadion Feb 24 at 8:55
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@adadion I think the real issue here is that the client needed to be told back when you knew you couldn't make it. Since you can't get back and do that now now, the updates need to be meaningful to the client and realistic. A daily "it's coming soon" doesn't allay any concerns. The release date needs to be specific, accurate, conveyed to the client as soon as possible. – Jane S Feb 24 at 9:43
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+1 for not underestimating how far you are behind. It's much better to be able to say to a client "You know that 3 week deadline extension we asked for? Turns out we only needed 1, so if you want to switch sooner..." Sure, it feels bad that you're asking for a lot of time and you will look bad in the eyes of the client, but not NEARLY as bad as if you ask for a 1 week deadline extension 3 times before you can finally hit it! – Cronax Feb 24 at 11:18

I'm making this an answer instead of a comment because it adds to both gnasher729's and blankip's answers.

Then you make sure the way your company works changes so that it won't happen again.

No absolutes there, but continuing as usual is not an option.
You cannot afford to fall into the same pitfall again with that client, because then you really risk losing him/her.

(And your other clients will probably benefit from the changes as well.)

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One change you probably need is in your estimating. It sounds as if you are giving your team no slack at all when estimating the deadline. So when you had to switch gears, there was no slack in the schedule to do the fix for the other client and meet this deadline. If you are estimating a full day's work from every person every day, then that is just unrealistic, People get pulled off to other projects, they get sick , they quit, they take vacation. you should be estimating no more than 6 hours per person daily when determining the deadline. If you support a lot of clients, assume less. – HLGEM Feb 24 at 14:24
    
@HLGEM yes, that is our main problem. And those thing you mention are pretty good to reconsider, for making estimation. – adadion Feb 25 at 4:20

I think you are asking the wrong question. The problem is not that you missed the deadline. Missing a deadline is not ideal, but unless it was literally a deadline (i.e. someone dies) it's simply a due date or a delivery date. You were one amongst literally millions who missed a deadline on that day.

The question is, rather, why was this missed deadline not communicated as soon as possible to the client? Why are you willing to let the customer hanging, and not telling them as soon as you knew you were going to be late? Being late isn't even an accident: you thought about it and gave precedence to another customer, so you knew you were going to be late.

On the one hand, you have no excuse for this. On the other hand, you can try lessen the blow by doing the following:

  1. Tell him as soon as possible.
  2. If you value his business, put your best people on it until it's done, and throw in a few freebies and/or a discount on the purchase order.
  3. Agree on a new delivery date, and actually meet it this time.
  4. Apologise for the communication breakdown resulting in the customer not being made aware of this, and that you will address this issue internally.

And in the future:

  1. Give some introductory project management training to whomever was responsible for this Project.

  2. Hire some professional project managers.

  3. Never play hide-and-seek with paying customers again.

Not knowing the customer, I would guess he is being nice because (a) he is nice and (b) because he still needs what he paid for, but he might look elsewhere next time. Don't ever give a customer any reason to look elsewhere.

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Can't emphasize enough how important it is to communicate slippage as soon as possible. As soon as you perceive any risk to the schedule - even if it is a risk that has not yet transpired - let the client know. That way, you look good if it doesn't happen and professional if it does. – Laconic Droid Feb 25 at 15:49

Apologize. Give a new estimate. Meet that estimate. Do not explain the failure, but emphasize that the software will meet whatever quality and performance standards he needs--in other words, re-emphasize the sales pitch that initially sold him on your team.

Earlier is better.

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I don't know what's wrong with explaining the failure, if a reasonable explanation could be given (no, probably not "you got bumped for a more important customer" exactly, but still). – Casey Feb 24 at 21:40
    
Unless there's something far outside your control that understandably put the business in trouble--like a natural disaster in the area--then you've basically answered your own question--what is reasonable from their perspective? – jimm101 Feb 24 at 21:45
    
"We didn't quite anticipate the amount of work," "we had some issues that reduced the amount of resources we could devote to this," etc. It just seems to me a little weird to refuse to give any sort of explanation at all. – Casey Feb 24 at 22:03
    
@Casey I wouldn't refuse, I just wouldn't volunteer. Saying "We didn't do things our competitors probably would to get your business" isn't really wise. If pressed, of course you should answer. But I'd be clear somehow of the exceptional nature of this. Otherwise your reputation is that things don't get done. Not good. – jimm101 Feb 24 at 22:05
    
@jimm101 I agree, but not 100% sure, is it okay to not to explain the failure? I mean not that failure progress, but I'd like to say a delay. Because we always seek for good solving for our problem in development. So this is about factor x which is client 'B' in this case. – adadion Feb 25 at 4:24

There's a very old saying, "A sin confessed is half forgiven." (credited to J. Florio by the 1884 book Day's Collacon: an Encyclopaedia of Prose Quotations.)

The only thing worse than a missed deadline is a surprise missed deadline. Tell them as soon as possible, because delaying can only make it worse.

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No matter what the other answers say, shit happens. Deadlines may be missed. You should sweeten the message with a gift, eg. as a token of apology I am offering a 5% discount, or 5% off from your next order...This way you convey you value their business, and they also get something, not just you taking sg from them (time due to missed deadline).

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I would recommend that any kind of discount be represented as a small discrete chunk of something at 0$, not a slight discount across the board. The reason is because customers often come to expect discounts later after initially giving one. For example, "I charged you $95/hr instead of $100/hr for these 20 hours" can lead to the customer wanting $95 going forward. Instead, say "I'm not charging you for 1 of the 20 hours." This is the same discount, but helps avoid any expectation of future such discounts. – ErikE Feb 25 at 17:01

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