I have a deadline one week away, and we have set up pretty extensive expectations with the client. Should I talk to the client to try to manage the expectation? If they work overtime, do I have to stay with them, or will that anger them more?

This is the first time in our project where I'm pushing for overtime. I do feel like I can do a better job managing expectations next cycle.

  • Hi Sinbu, can you clarify this: "If they work overtime, do I have to stay with them, or will that anger them more?". What do you mean by "stay with them". I have visions of you telling your team, "Going home now, have fun pulling that all-nighter ;)". Can you clarify? Also, why do you feel like you can't manage expectations this time but you will at some point in the future? BTW, welcome to Project Management SE, and I hope you find the answers you seek! :)
    – jmort253
    Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 5:42
  • Thanks for the welcome. I guess the real question stems from the fact that I have a pretty good relationship with my client, and have always delivered on time. I'm freaking out a bit when I don't think I am going to deliver on time, and wonder if it's worth burning my team or just telling the client. I feel like if I burn my team, I can make the next release require less, as I work with the client to determine the scope for the next cycle. I think I will approach and see if I can push back on scope, but want to hear what would be the best answer
    – Sinbu
    Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 5:52
  • 3
    you don't motivate resources, you motivate people. Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 18:09

4 Answers 4


Your primary job is to manage expectations. It's your fault to have such high expectations, so negotiate with the client. You may have tight deadlines only if they are connected with external factors (like media promotions, legal regulations, etc.) and not just because the client wants it as soon as possible (the client always wants it as soon as possible).

If you need the team to work overtime, stay with them and provide them with everything they may need - coffee, dinner, etc. Be clear why the overtime is needed, what they will receive as a compensation and what steps you would take to avoid overtime next time.

  • 2
    In addition to negotiating, I'd also add to this answer that, if you know in advance you may not meet a deadline, just let the client know. Oftentimes, a late delivery isn't the end of the world, especially if the client knows to push back ordering the cement when she knows that the foundation diggers just hit bedrock and need extra time to blast through it. ;) In short, ask the client if it would be a problem if you delivered on day Z instead of day X. The solution just might be that you don't need to burnout the team at all. ;)
    – jmort253
    Commented Dec 1, 2012 at 2:50

I believe the decision of whether cut the scope or work overtime is extensively discussed on the links J provided as a comment, so I'll focus on the subject question, about how to motivate the team to have them working overtime.

There are two different scenarios, and I'd say the approach needs to be based depending on it. One is when you're working with a long-term team, and another with contractors. You have far more 'flexibility' when working with contractors, but remember that depending on the way the project is conducted (i.e. how hard you'll push the team) you may have problems in the future when you need other contractors.

There are some items, however, that worth to bear in mind when dealing with your team, as follows:

  • Assess the scenarios: What happens if the project is not delivered on schedule? What will happen to the team? And to you? And with the relationship with the client? You must have these questions quite clear before action. Probably the questions you'll hear will be at some level related to them. Be prepared.
  • Define priorities: You must know as well, what are the project priorities in case of delays. This must be assessed with the client (it's extensively discussed in the related links).
  • Be transparent: Explain the situation to the team. Schedule a meeting where everyone feeling comfortable (i.e. avoid having this meeting in the middle of the night). Put on the table (as much as you can) the drawbacks in case the project does not deliver on time.
  • Make them accountable: When you need people engaged, make them feel that their success and the project success is the very same thing. Otherwise, they may not work hard enough to deliver the project.
  • Overwork guarantees nothing: Working extra-hours is not a guarantee that the project will be delivered, so while gathering team's commitment, review the scope with the client and define priorities, what is a must have and what is a nice to have.
  • How they'll be compensated? They're doing extra work. They expect extra compensation. Or not. But make sure you manage properly their expectations, otherwise you may burn your team to the point of having no commitment like this in the future.

A last reminder: Working extra hours is part of the job, especially in IT. Assess what you need to do, and go for it. But make sure you're part of the team (being there with them, being available in a mobile number, helping removing any blocker they may face), otherwise they'll never respect / trust you again.


How do you motivate resources to work overtime to meet a deadline?

what kind of methodology are you using? In agile environment I would consider it a great disrespect if someone would "have set up pretty extensive expectations with the client" behind the team's back and then try to motivate "resources" in order to meet the deadline;

if you looking for a team's commitment - let the team to decide if the deadline is reasonable or not.

  • In my opinion it is not up to the team to decide that the deadline is reasonable or not. The "owner" of the deadline is the customer, and the team can suggest (or ask for) changes, but it is not a team decision.
    – Zsolt
    Commented Dec 1, 2012 at 7:57
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    @Zsolt : are you serious??? if you are, I am pretty sure such project will be part of the statistics: over 60% of IT projects are failing. The reason (in this case) is very simple: if you do not treat developers as a professionals, they will return the favor. In short - if you want people to be commited - let them commit on their own
    – Steve V
    Commented Dec 1, 2012 at 11:15
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    It's not a matter of deciding now if the deadlines are feasible or not. Instead, it's how to handle the situation now. Besides, there's nowhere saying the OP didn't ask for estimates to the team. Your post, on the other hand, is only trying to point fingers on where the manager might have screwed things up... And I don't believe that's a proper answer for the problem. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
    – Tiago Cardoso
    Commented Dec 2, 2012 at 13:03
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    @Tiago Cardoso: please read my post again. It says "if you looking for a team's commitment - let the team to decide if the deadline is reasonable or not". In my experience commited team will do everything in order to meet the deadline; that's an answer to the question. Let me know if you need more clarification.
    – Steve V
    Commented Dec 2, 2012 at 14:09
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    I think a more middle ground approach would be to definitely involve the team, so you're not going behind their back, but to also push back and find ways to save some time, either by cutting features or making changes to the number of resources, etc... Nice answer.
    – jmort253
    Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 14:45

A small addition to things said elsewhere (especially by @Darhazer): please remember to have a party with your team after completing the project. The exact format of the party will certainly vary according to local customs and traditions and the scale of the project. Anything will do, really, as long as you show your team you care for them.

Do not switch to party mode the very same morning you're shipping your product, though - firstly, there may be bugreps from the client to iron out, secondly, your team members will be exhausted and you have to cut them some slack and allow them to sleep and recover from the stress of working overtime to enjoy the party.

This is an important mechanism of bonding the team together and getting informal feedback on the project.

  • 1
    Thanks for the suggestion. I shipped a day late, code complete and test complete, and sent the group home for the day (at noon). The rest of the week, we're scoping for the next release. I'm planning a small lunch party at the end of the week, at a place they wanted to go. I don't plan on forcing conversation, but I'm sure we can talk about feedback. Thanks for the help.
    – Sinbu
    Commented Dec 6, 2012 at 21:57

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