Dealing with Impossible Deadlines – A Business Analyst’s Approach

Are You Dealing With Impossible Deadlines?

One of our readers wrote in about a particularly tricky situation. She’s having difficulty dealing with impossible deadlines. For the purposes of this blog we’ll call her Cindy.

Cindy is a trainee BA and has found herself in a situation where she is expected to perform a senior BA role without a lot of support or training albeit with a fair bit of recognition and understanding for her situation. She is working on several projects at the same time. All have unrealistic, and overlapping, deadlines; she is constantly missing deadlines and having to explain.

She says her manager understands; but she finds the stress difficult to manage. Cindy is newlywed and feels that her work / life balance is way out of balance and she asks for advice on how best to cope with the situation.

Here’s how to manage the situation.

Communicate the Issue

This is a very difficult situation for any BA to face. The most important tool needed here is communication. If I were in this situation the first thing I would do is clearly articulate the fact that I felt the deadlines were unrealistic. It is not an unknown scenario that the deadlines remain even after the person responsible to achieve them has stated that they are not realistic. However, making the statement is the first important action.

Plan Your Deadlines

The next step I would take would be to work out what a realistic plan of deadlines would be across the projects. I would make sure that my managers were aware of the achievable plan, and I would try to get them to work with me to agree on a more realistic plan.  If the managers still insisted on the original deadlines, the next two tools I would implement would be:

  1. A priority listing, and
  2. A diary of events.

Both of these would help me to stay calm in the face of impossible deadlines because I would know that I could explain and prove my case whenever necessary.

The priority listing would clearly articulate what aspects and projects should come first and why in terms of benefit to the business. The diary of events would track everything that interfered with my ability to meet the deadlines; this could include a range of things from people not being available for workshops, or meetings, to a manager overriding the priority list.  The diary would assist when managers questioned why a certain deadline was missed.

Decide on the Best Approach

In Cindy’s situation she has three choices.

  1. The first is to do her best to either persuade her managers to look at more realistic planning.
  2. If that fails, the second option is to prioritise, communicate, and diarise – and to do this in a stress free way.
  3. The third choice is to walk away if all genuine and clearly articulated communication with managers fails.

The latter option is my least preferred, there is usually a moment in the career of most BA’s when they need to learn the art of the possible, how to get management to respect and value their abilities and constraints, and to value their advice about deadlines. If the BA learns to cope with the compromise of diarising and communicating this can be much more valuable than walking away. Coping means being ok with the fact that deadlines will not be met, knowing that management has been fully informed, in a timely way, leaving the BA exonerated. However, this can prove too stressful for a very young BA and when it impacts on the persons personal life and stress levels to too great an extent, walking away is sometimes the only option.

Develop Positive Resilience

Maturing in the BA field can help develop resilience so that unrealistic pressures are seen for what they are, are not taken home, and do not impact on home life. Sometimes it’s very hard to set boundaries, but even for young workers, it is important to do so. Working extremely long hours is fine and acceptable when really vital and for short periods, but it should not be done on a permanent basis for a lifetime! Studies have shown that without work / life balance the worker becomes less productive and less innovative in the long term – this damages the worker and the company goals!

What do you think? Do you have any techniques for managing impossible deadlines?

About the Author

Michelle Kandiliotis

Michelle Kandiliotis has worked predominantly in the role of business analysis over the past 15 years with some diversions into project and general management. Michelle is passionate about creativity, communication, mentoring, inspiring and motivating people, having fun, and benefiting the organisation.

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