How do you respond to customer demanding too much to be done in not enough time? This is in an IT environment.

Responding by "We can not do it" as true as it is, put the focus on us that we are not capable in delivering. But how to make them realise what is being asked in not feasible in the given amount of time and resources.

5 Answers 5


To effectively justify your estimations it is always better to have the project plan. What you're asking actually can have different answers depending on the current phase of the project. But the general solution is to operate with the plan.

Depending on what is the level of awareness in your processes and IT industry in general your customer has you should demonstrate the plan of different level of details. Basically the more items your plan demonstrates the more options to negotiate you have.

You can start from low-level detail plan and break it down and down showing up what low-level tasks and timings compose your feature scope.


Don't sign the contract. Say no.

Look around at other industries. No other industry, EXCEPT IT, will you see this phenomena to this degree. Try it. Hire a builder and tell them they need to complete the house in three months instead of the six they told you. They'll walk away laughing.

For some reason, in IT, we say yes... and then fail.

Say no.


Looks like a growth opportunity to me!

Remember that:

  1. The customer cannot know how much effort each piece of work takes.
  2. The customer cannot know how much work you have already committed and how much bandwidth is left.

So, stop looking at it as someone is trying to slam you.

  1. Make an estimate of each work item.
  2. Is there any low priority work that you have committed? Can you negotiate to get some of that deferred?
  3. See what productivity improvements you can make through process improvements, automation...etc.
  4. Be sensitive to the customer's need for urgent work and priorities. Be prepared to add resources to bring the timeline in.

Go back with a proposal of when you can realistically deliver each work item. If the timeline is not acceptable, propose additional funding to add resources and what timeline improvement that can get.


Time is a matter of priority.

You can do everything the client needs... you just need to negotiate it.

As per the Project Management Triange, if you fix two variables, you'll vary the other. You just need to negotiate where the client wants to compromise.

The client should either rely on your opinion or dive into the details... and are hard the clients interested to know why a class needs to be refactored just to add a new button on the screen.

Lastly, maybe the client is asking what need to be done to start delivering more - use this as an opportunity!

Too busy to work


One technique is to estimate the cost/effort/time to deliver on each piece of work. Let say you use units of person-days where 1 person day is $1000.

Some pieces of work can be worked on by more than one person - "build a new training room" could be the whole team working together, "design a new logo" is probably one or two people maximum. For each piece of work, note the likely number of people that would be effective to get that work done, between 1 and number of team members minus 1 (see below).

You could give them your capacity - let's say your team is 5 people and you're all in at least 4 days a week (average subtracting vacation time, sickness, training, travel, interruptions, etc). So that's 5 x 4 = $20,000 budget per week.

For example, they want a new website set up and the last one took 12 person weeks, you can put a dollar value of 12 x 4 x $1000 = $48,000. If 2 people can work on it, it'll take half the time, but the cost is the same.

Ask the customer to prioritise the work once they've seen the 'cost' of each piece of work and how quickly it could be delivered. As they get to understand that some types of work cost more than others, they'll begin to focus on what yields better business value to them, trim the irrelevant stuff and are more likely work with you to make the best use of everyone's time and money.

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