I received an assignment almost 2 weeks ago that I have not been able to complete, due to lack of support, both from inside and outside my company, despite reaching out for assistance both in and outside the company (no response came from outside). This task was allocated to me by a coworker, who did not give much direction, even though it was known this is my first time trying to complete this type of task. Now the boss is asking for an update, and I have nothing to report, because it is not complete. Furthermore, it can't be completed today because the outside support I need is closed. How do I word an email saying this isn't done because no one helped me through the roadblocks that came up but I will fix it first thing in the morning by going down to the other company in person?

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    Well, you've dug yourself a big hole here. You should have raised the issue with your boss when you were having problems, not after the deadline has passed. – Philip Kendall Feb 20 '17 at 18:18
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    "nothing to report" is sort of backwards relative to the situation. Reports of the form "I have encountered difficulty X in doing task Y, and I am not sure I can resolve it soon enough to finish on time" are especially important and urgent. Much more important to get to management than "Task Y is on track and expected to be completed on time." – Patricia Shanahan Feb 20 '17 at 19:35

Now the boss is asking for an update, and I have nothing to report, because it is not complete.

It sounds like you have plenty to report.

It's unfortunate you waited until now to talk about it. If you had mentioned the roadblocks when they occurred, perhaps your boss could have helped "unblock" them.

The best you can do now is to explain where you are in the process now, what you plan to do to complete the assignment, and when you think you will actually be complete.

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    I'd also add to this if you need help, say so. It is unlikely they expect you to do this with no support, but it is likely that they expect you to ask for help when you need it. – Kat Feb 20 '17 at 22:34
  • My shortest report was "Boss, I think I f*ed this up really bad" (I knew I can use this word with this boss). Because I had no idea what exactly went wrong. Failure report is still a report, like Joe says. Oh, and my boss was really glad to hear this promptly, when we still had enough time to figure out what went wrong, and deliver on time. – Mołot Feb 21 '17 at 10:40

The OP hasn't explicitly indicated a deadline has passed, but regardless, if there are problems which are blocking completion the boss needs to know as soon as that becomes a known risk.

Even blowing a deadline occasionally is OK as long as everyone knows it's going to happen in advance and isn't blindsided by it. One of the most important unwritten rules in the workplace that causes a lot of new people pain is "don't surprise your boss".

To answer your question about the email:

  • First, its usually better to give bad news in person rather than email if that's possible and timely.
  • Blaming anyone else even if it is entirely their fault would be considered bad form at this point because you could have addressed it earlier. Much better to accept full responsibility and a willingness to solve the problem.
  • It's not the end of the world, just say what you've done so far, what the problems are and what help you need to move forward.
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Email your boss (better, talk to them in person or by phone), and tell them exactly what you've put in this email. But, you should also tell them what you have done. If the job is not complete, did you manage to do any part of it? Even if you're just reporting the people you've contacted and the research you've done, that's more concrete than saying "I did nothing...". Maybe next time, give your manager a status report by email each Friday afternoon, so they know of any blockages in advance.

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