Managing a team to meet a tight deadline

Managing a team to meet a tight deadline

Your engineering team has to ship a new feature in one month's time and you are not on track. What do you do?

This was a recent interview question I was asked and I think it's worth exploring. My view is that you have to get your team's buy-in to be successful, by being transparent and involving them in the solution


A three-month project has one month to go and it's not on schedule. You are unable to move the date and cannot reduce the scope, so your only option is to increase the team's throughput.

What do you do?

  1. Set the Scene - explain why the deadline is important and what the consequences are of missing it. For example, monetary/reputational loss with customers.

    • For the team to commit more effort, they need to know why?
  2. Admit mistakes - that the original delivery estimate was wrong and that you will work to review the reasons why so that future estimates can be more accurate.

    • The team needs to know that a problem has been identified and you will take steps to ensure it doesn't happen again in future
  3. Collaborate on the solution - discuss with the team how throughput could be increased to meet the deadline. For example:

    1. Is there something wrong with the current process which is slowing them down and can be solved with minimal loss of their hours? For example, unclear requirements or a lack of teamwork/expertise.

    2. Bring in extra help from another team or a contractor - but only if the extra engineer time will outweigh the team's time spent onboarding someone new

    3. The team agrees to work harder for the next month (e.g. longer hours and/or weekends). In some companies such as start-ups, your culture may be strong enough for employees to do this voluntarily. However, in other cases, you may need additional motivation such as paid overtime, a bonus payment or extra vacation days if the deadline is met. The latter can be useful as a reward as it doesn't cost the company "real" money.

Final thoughts

I believe that this transparent approach is most likely to work and get the commitment of the team as it explains the reasons why and gives them shared ownership of the solution. Let me know your thoughts and comments :)

Main article image by Jason Goodman on Unsplash