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I work in academia in Germany. After a group meeting of 5 about a project that I took part in, my professor asked me how do I think about the project progress. I had the impression that we might not meet the deadline, but I think that as a newcomer, it is not appropriate for me to say so. So I just told him what I am going to do for the project.

Would there be any cultural differences in dealing with this (e.g. Asian counties vs. Germany)? Would the answer be different if I am in a non-academic field?

  • If you're not sure how to answer such a question, you could also respond with a question of your own, for example, "How are we going to deal with [whatever worries you]?" – Llewellyn Oct 23 at 18:23
  • Academic stack surely? – Solar Mike Oct 25 at 6:07
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I have a habit asking similar question to the newcomers, more often so than to project leader or any key person. My goal is to find out whether the newcomers grasp sufficient understanding about the project and know how to do it.

Most of my case, in a mature team, the question for newcomer like this is not primarily aimed to assess project progress. However, the deduction from the answer is important, as it will affect whether I need to dispatch someone to mentor you further, thus will indirectly affect the project completion speed.

My advice is to open the talk with description of your responsibilities, how many of those already accomplished, how many more to do and be honest about anything that you consider as a blocker. If you can't assess and wrap the whole project summary in your explanation, that's fine. I leave that responsibility to senior and project lead.

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I don't specifically know about the environment in academic projects, but usually, the saying is "Hope for the best, plan for the worst".

By hiding the fact that your analysis uncovers the potential delay in getting the project done, you're essentially making it difficult for you and all others, and probably once it's delayed, it'll paint a poor picture of your judgement and execution.

Be straightforward about it, and keep everyone updated about the status as early as possible in the execution cycle. If you can make it up, good for you, otherwise, at least there will be a contingency to handle / absorb the impact of delay.

In other words, delays can happen and at times, they are acceptable, but surprises, or absolute last minute updates about missing deadlines are bad, as it costs time, money and reputation.

My advice: If you feel it's going to be delayed, mention a revised timeline and show the (re)planning on how the new dates are going to be met. This will not only take the edge of the news of the delay, but also will show your planning and commitment towards the assignment / project.

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  • It was only a verbal conversation (I am not sure whether he asked me in a serious sense). And as I said, I am a newcomer to this project (not a leader). I can not really judge the time consumption either, as I do not have an overview over everything. Is it appropriate for me do so? – Aqqqq Oct 23 at 10:44
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    @Aqqqq if you're not the leader, why do they ask you? Think about that - they may want to judge your capability for assessments. There's no shame in saying I don't know. If you need to ask for help / guidance from your lead / senior to understand the project scope / expectation / execution process in a better way, ask for some time, do your background research and then get bac with an answer. – Sourav Ghosh Oct 23 at 10:46
  • I also wonder why did my professor ask me (just one person, not "they"). I am definitely not the leader, I can assure you this. I was thinking that it was just a casual conversation. I wonder whether I should answer with "I don't know" to a question just asking about my impression on something. – Aqqqq Oct 23 at 10:51
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    @Aqqqq You were probably asked because you are a newcomer, and might have a fresh opinion on the project, vs. the longer term view of the other project members, with whom the boss may have established ideas. Likely the boss is just wondering what things look like from your perspective. – Jennifer S Oct 26 at 12:08

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