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Clients and Deadlines - How to Handle Deadline Change Requests

written by: Ronda Bowen • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 8/13/2009

You think your project is on track and running smoothly and then, out of the blue, the client requests a deadline change. What do you do? Here are some tips for how to handle change requests from clients.

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    Photo credit via Flickr Dealing with changing requirements can be problematic. Few things are as nerve wracking as when you get off the phone with your client and you stare at your desk wondering, “She wants it three weeks early – how am I going to do this?" Fortunately, for you, there are a few options for how you can respond to this situation that don’t involve hitting a panic button.

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    Say No

    This is the world’s oldest solution for things that cannot be done. If your team is already working hard at the project, and three weeks early would overwork everybody, say “no." Many people have a hard time saying this little word, and this is how we wind up with more on our plates than we can handle. Practice saying it, one sound at a time. This way, when that client calls you up and says, “We need this before you’re scheduled to have it done," you will have a response ready.

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    Compromise on the Deadline Change

    Your client wants it done six weeks early. You have the resources and the ability to finish a week to a week and a half early without creating serious stress for your employees. Here is where you negotiate. After saying “No," negotiating is the scariest thing to do with a client – what if they say no? Fear not! Many times, the client will be willing to work with you. Be honest when negotiating. Explain to the client that taxing the resources could result in a drop in quality. Come to a middle point - where both you and the client are happy. You might not get exactly what you want, but you might reduce that six-week gap to three weeks.

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    When All Else Fails, Fast Track the Project

    If saying no really isn’t an option, and compromise only has gotten you so far, you may need to fast track the project in order to finish on time. Fast tracking a project involves performing tasks that would otherwise be performed in a sequence at the same time. But beware it is not a project management method that should be undertaken by inexperienced project manager. Fast tracking requires experience and good technique to pull it off smoothly. It is also a technique that can be used when the deadline has approached, scope creep has taken over and asking for a deadline isn’t possible.

Five Great Project Questions

This article series looks at five great project questions: Does a Project Charter Include a Scope Statement? How do I know the planning phase is complete? How can I evaluate a resource's reliability? What metrics are best for project management? and What do you do when the client wants it now?
  1. Project Charters vs. Scope Statements
  2. How Do I Know the Project Planning Phase is Complete?
  3. How Can I Evaluate a Project Resource's Reliability?
  4. Best Metrics for Project Management
  5. Clients and Deadlines - How to Handle Deadline Change Requests
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