Tips and Tricks

April 13, 2017 By John Boitnott

Five Ways to Keep Clients Happy When a Project Falls Behind

April 13, 2017

By John Boitnott

Read More from John Boitnott

April 13, 2017

Five Ways to Keep Clients Happy When a Project Falls Behind

By John Boitnott

At one time or another, every team falls behind on a project, despite their best efforts to remain on track. Team members get sick, tasks take longer than planned, or resources change without warning. Often for consultants or sales teams, this means the product or service a client is expecting won’t be finished on time.

That’s where the real problem happens – many teams wait too late to notify their customers or clients that things aren’t going according to plan. They might assume that they can make up for lost time by shifting resources or working longer hours, which ends up backfiring. If you’re running behind on a project, the worst thing you can do is fail to communicate that to your clients. Saving face is not your priority here – it’s delivering the results they asked for. So the sooner they know about a delay, the sooner they can prepare for it. So here are a few things you should do as soon as you realize you won’t meet a deadline.

Evaluate All The Options

Before your next meeting with your client, take time to prepare for all possible scenarios and come up with a few options for them to choose. Your client will be much more receptive to “bad news” if you are up front about why there was a delay, and give them all the options from the point the project is at today. Be prepared with any alternative scenarios that might help the client achieve their goals in a way you hadn’t previously discussed.

Meet Face to Face

Yes, we’d all prefer to deliver “bad news” not face to face. But a deadline-slip via e-mail is just about as bad as a breakup text. So make sure when you’ve got to communicate a change in the plan, you’re doing it in-person, or by video conference. You want to be able to see your client’s true reaction to the news, to maintain a strong connection with them.

Stick to the Facts

During the meeting, avoid the blame game and simply explain the facts. If you were unexpectedly short on resources, or you misunderstood a part of the process, just be honest about that and apologize. Clients will be less receptive if you approach them with a list of excuses than if you just own up to your mistakes.


Once you’ve explained the delay, the next step will be to negotiate like a pro. This is where your alternate scenarios come in. Be clear with what you can get done, and by when. They’ll want a new deadline, so make sure it’s one you can reach. If time is of the essence, determine if there are some features that can be eliminated, or moved to a “phase two” in order to expedite the more important parts of the project.

Continue to Make Adjustments

On a daily basis even after the meeting, you should be thinking about any new resources you could shift around to help get things done. This may mean setting another project aside for a few hours, or contracting a few tasks out to freelancers if you think you might lose your client. If you’re consistently operating with limited resources, you may need to learn tactics to help juggle those resources.

Missed deadlines are never fun, but they’re a part of life. And if you’re honest and straightforward with clients and take the right approach to remedying the situation, you may find a delay gives you the opportunity to strengthen your client relationships.