Timeline is a critical piece of information when setting goals at the beginning of a project, and questions around timelines are some of the first we need answered.

More often than not, the requested delivery date is “yesterday” or “as soon as possible” and is accompanied by the obligatory chuckle that comes with asking for something unreasonable. As a project manager, my job is to uncover the motives behind an unreasonable expectation while ensuring we meet the other predictable goals around quality and budget, and mitigating the unknown (but inevitable) obstacles that will challenge our success.

I never get frustrated with an unreasonable expectation around project timelines because they are so predictable. It’s like when a waiter asks you “how was your meal?” and you say “terrible” as you laugh and hand over a plate you’ve all but licked clean. These kinds of answers allow me to start a dialogue around strict adherence to an aggressive project plan that typically requires the client to run at a pace faster than they are used to. Being on the consultant side of that deadline, my main focus is the delivery of the project. However, my clients usually don’t have that luxury because our projects are typically in addition to the responsibilities of their normal day-to-day job.

So, I respond with “we can run as fast as you can” as we’ve run this race before. We almost always slow down during engagements where unreasonable timelines are requested initially because the opening pace is just too fast for the client to maintain.

This brings me to a clarification I would like to make when it comes to delivery expectations: fast is not always right.

This doesn’t mean we can’t do each of our tasks quickly, but there’s an important distinction between “fast” and “quickly” that must be understood.

The difference between “fast” and “quick”

While it may seem like “fast” and “quick” are synonyms, by definition, “fast” refers to speed and “quick” refers to timeline. Therefore, “fast” is more closely synonymous with “rushed”. When I think of rushing through something, I anticipate mistakes and missed requirements.

So, in the interest in accomplishing all strategic goals, let’s not try to do things “fast” for the sake of hitting a deadline. Let’s take a moment in the beginning to understand our true project requirements and work quickly to complete tasks thoroughly.

This will allow us to deliver on quality, on budget, and quickly– which usually satisfies a reasonable project timeline expectation.



Karen Collins is the VP of Client Success here at Zuri Group and is a certified Project Management Professional by the Project Management Institute. She has a proven track record in bringing a sense of organization, quality and formalized process to complex, multi-tiered projects.

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