Currently we're working on a project where top management is providing unrealistic estimates to our customers, especially in terms of the number of bugs that we can fix. We are not talking just about a optimistic targets, but clearly unrealistic goals like fixing 400 bugs a week instead of an average of 200 bugs. The main risks are that we will not take the action needed to really fix the project like renegotiating the plan, reducing the scope, etc.

I am thinking about different strategies here to overcome the problem:

  1. Let the management focus on unrealistic goals while working-level people renegotiate planning and scope to find some real solutions.
  2. Directly raising this issue with client management (probably a bad idea).
  3. Wait until we really crash (e.g. fail to deliver what is expected) to implement a new solution.

Is there a better strategy to prevent such situations? Are there special tricks to deal with top management who get involved in project details? How can we deal with this situation?

  • Did you talk to the top-management about the gap you mention? What did they say?
    – Sven Amann
    Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 10:17
  • Basically, I reported the problem to my direct manager who then to report to his boss ... and so on since we are in a quite hierarchical company. The problem is that it goes quite high and each level is taking some optimistic improvement. Like I say we can fix 200 bugs, then my boss say 250, then is 300 and so on! (That's just a specific example but it goes on with other topics too). It's also quite hard to by-pass a manager.
    – valeuf
    Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 10:49
  • Hmhm, but you seem do be in direct contact with the client, since you know what is being communicated to him? I currently only see the option to talk to your manager again. I don't think you should bypass anyone, but maybe you can accompany your manager when he talks to his boss? As you tell it, higher management is probably not even aware of the problem yet...
    – Sven Amann
    Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 16:27

3 Answers 3


Weird to answer my own question, but the problem has been partially solved and I wanted to share the approach the team took.

First, we convinced some well-respected senior manager in the company to have a look on the circus going on with the top-management reporting and a to have look over the number. He finally raised his voice to stop the mess, without having us to by-pass direct hierarchy. (Guy coming from other division, but having business with the same customer).

Second, we decided also finally decided to focus on action to be taken (merging validation and development team in the same building, schedule adjustment...) over just promising something. For the side story, our sales insisted that engineering does not give blind promise to our customer, since that could hurt on-going discussion for other project.

That does not solve the initial problem that our project is not side-tracked and it will be hard to close it, but at least it looks like we can go back to work and not spent our time to explain ourselves and give promise to our management. I had the curious feeling in conclusion that we had to play a lot of politics to drive to reason the internal forces.

  • I like this outcome and your strategy of finding a channel to communicate to the management audience the real information regarding capability. It's the best strategy, consistent with the PM's professional obligation for honesty, and proactive (unlike the 'harden up, that's sales' answer also given here)
    – Jeremy
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 3:19

I have been in a situation like this, try to communicate with top management. They could simply be using the figures primarily for marketing or to close the contract. It seems they wanted to have a deal on this so much and if this is the case - discuss ahead risk management strategies/what-if scenarios. Is the 400 based on historical data? Bugs have severities, perhaps some sales guys just decided that 200 critical/major bugs = 400 minor/trivial to make the SOW more attractive.

  • Thanks for the feedback. Here we are in a bit different scenario since we have to go production for the project, so it's all about what we can do before production date (roughly in 10 Weeks, people want to add features and fix too many bugs...).
    – valeuf
    Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 10:50

The gap between sales and those who deliver will never be closed. And there is good reason for that, too. First, that line where you cross from optimistic, to very optimistic, to very very optimistic, to slightly unrealistic, to pretty much unrealistic, to unrealistic, and so on is huge, blurry grey line with indiscriminate borders.

Depending on one's risk appetite, you'd place that promise on different areas on that line. So it becomes quite a never ending argument as to really where you are.

Second, you would go out of business in about 15 minutes if you were "honest" with your promises. As PMs, we are told to be transparent and honest and set real expectations. As sales people, we sell and close deals. While buyers might want honesty, they buy what they want to hear. So if you want to have some place to work....

Third, there are so many changes and things that can occur that make early promises often irrelevant by the time you have to deliver.

One one recent project, we promised an eight month project to be delivered in three...during the holidays. During the three months, we had difficulty controlling scope, which continued to grow. The likelihood of completing in three was dismal from the start and only worsened until the team could only laugh about it. As we approached deadline, the customer failed to negotiate with another vendor on whom a lot of our scope was dependent. That other vendor would not jump into this train wreck of a project. Consequently, our scope was cut over half, we finished the little bit that remained in that three months and claimed victory. Customer was happy with us, we got the sales counted for the year end, and all the blame went to the other vendor.

Sleazy? Yes, that's why I hate sales.

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