The typical set of tasks on my plate have an attached schedule that was more or less jointly determined between me and the supervisor/lead/management team. The scheduling may have been determined by one or more of a kanban/ agile approach, one-one, or even just informally as in "how long do you think it will take?"

But sometimes the schedule is more or less "imposed" on me. This may most frequently occur due to :

  • external pressures: e.g. customer hard deadline
  • internal pressures: overall project status
  • disagreement on difficulty/risk factor of the task

Typically when a schedule is imposed - and it was seemingly unrealistic - it does indeed turn out to require more time than allotted. So it would not seem beneficial to anyone to simply hand-wave the disparity of estimates.

How can I convey this mismatch between schedule and estimates when there is significant "insistence" on the abbreviated schedule?

Let's make some assumptions:

  1. A reduction in scope had already been discussed and at least partially included in the current tasks set. But even with the reduced scope it still doesn't seem possible to meet the deadline.

  2. The majority of tasks do align in estimates and delivery - so that overall there were not a mismatch in terms of productivity and job requirements. Consider these tasks somewhat as exceptions - but important ones to handle well.

Update the comments below are mostly completely off : talking about simplifying the usage of English e.g. simpler words and constructs, etc... The manager happens to value longer/more detailed (/windy to the commenters' ears ..) explanations vs shorter ones but with less meat. I don't have any trouble getting across the message in terms of usage of the English language.. It is about getting buy-in. In addition this is not a normal situation - this had not been an issue with other managers. Back to the "style" - I can and do adjust as needed.

  • This is to say that most tasks are agreed upon for schedule Oct 10, 2017 at 20:00
  • 2
    What is the exact goal here? Do you want the estimate to be changed to a realistic one or do want your objection to be officially "noted" so you won't be blamed?
    – Fildor
    Oct 11, 2017 at 7:32
  • The rule for the the subjunctive and conditional moods isn't just 'use "were" every time you would normally use "was"', by the way...
    – AakashM
    Oct 11, 2017 at 7:45
  • 4
    Paparazzi's comment will indeed help you get substantial answers since currently, you're using unnecessarily complicated constructions. This may lead non-native speakers to misunderstand or even completely fail to understand your question. You have a question and are looking for an answer. Coming off as someone who feels they're better than the rest of the world doesn't help that goal.
    – Cronax
    Oct 11, 2017 at 8:55
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    It would be easier to follow if you just say "I" and speak in the first person. The same applies for people who post questions like "I have a friend, call him 'Bob', who has the following problem..."; it just makes everything more complicated. For the purpose of this post, you are Bob.
    – Brandin
    Oct 11, 2017 at 9:25

2 Answers 2


How can this be conveyed when there were significant "insistence" on the abbreviated schedule?

I have always felt obligated to convey my best professional estimate, even when the schedule was imposed on me.

If my estimate and the required schedule don't match (and scope is fixed, and no additional help is available), then I ask for help prioritizing tasks.

Basically I say "I will give these tasks my best efforts. Still my professional opinion is that they cannot all be completed in the time allotted. Which tasks should be at the bottom of the list, so that if I run out of time these are the ones that won't get done?"

Then I let my manager (and potentially the business) decide how best to mitigate the schedule risk, with my help.

In the end all you can do is your best within the time available.

  • 4
    I'd like to add that silently accepting the unrealistic scheduling and then ripping the deadline will most certainly backfire. I am hearing questions like "then why didn't you say anything?"
    – Fildor
    Oct 11, 2017 at 7:29

When given an unrealistic (or indeed an impossible) deadline for completion of a task there are three key aspects to communicating this back to the person assigning you the task:


You need to let people know as soon as you can that the deadline is unlikely to be met, the more notice you give people the more time they will have to work around the problem. Whether that is managing expectations with the project stakeholders, acquiring additional resource, adjusting the task etc.

And of course the is the likelihood that not mentioning you're going to miss the deadline till the last minute (or later!) comes across as an excuse rather than a real problem and that won't reflect well on you.


You need to communicate the issues and the consequences very clearly and in language that the recipient understands. I'm not throwing rocks at you here but as an example your question as posted here is very difficult to navigate which makes identifying the cruical message you are trying to convey that much harder and opens up the possibility for it to be missed or misinterpreted which could be disasterous in such a situation. Especially in a busy work environment where the PM (or whoever) may have very limited time and bandwidth to spend on deciphering it.

Don't just bring problems, bring solutions

Just telling someone

No I can't complete task X by Y date

is informative but it's not productive. It doesn't give them anywhere to go next and just dumps the problem in their lap, and regardless of whether the inability to meet Y date is your "fault" or not it's probably going to cause them to associate the negative consequences they experience as a result with you.

If you instead say something like

I can't complete task X by Y date, I understand that Y date is important because we've promised Widgets Inc we'd deliver it then however, and I can provide components a, b and c of X by Y date and the rest of X by Z date or I could implement W as an alternative by Y date instead?

Note the explicit mention of understanding that the deadline matters, this is important because really whether you agree with or not (and really whatever the reason is for the deadline, ridiculous as it may be) it's important to the business and showing that you understand and appreciate that is a good way to show you are working with your PM/manager rather than "against" them.

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