We Needed A Miracle

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The lead software developer on my team came by my desk to tell me she needed to tell me something. Her plan was to step into a conference room, apparently due to the sensitive nature of the message. Once in the small room, she broke the news. “We’re screwed. The team and I have discussed it extensively, and there’s no way we can finish this project with current requirements and schedule. There’s a risk we may be fired.”* While it sounded like we may need a miracle, I also knew, from the extreme language and emotional content, maybe we just needed to reframe the situation.

We’re In This Together; 3 Steps To Alignment

“Ok,” I said. ” I get it. Can we discuss this in a little more detail? I’ll deliver the message to management, and I’ll support the team, but I need to take complete information when I do.”

“Sure,” she said. “I thought this conversation was going to be harder than this.”

“No,” I said. “Everyone involved knows we’re operating in reality. There are limitations. But they need as much advance notice as possible, and they need enough information to understand alternatives. If we can provide that, we all win together, one way or another.”

“Wow,” she said. “We were afraid you might throw us under the bus.”

“No,” I said. “Wherever we go, we go together.”

I asked what circumstances had the team conclude it would be impossible to meet our goal.

2 Questions Build A Risk Mitigation Plan

She listed several things: the team lacked understanding of a specific technology, needed software licenses, access to subject matter experts, and more computing hardware.

I asked her to define the missing things in detail.

  • Exactly what was missing, and what resources or mechanisms would be necessary to fulfill the need?
  • What would be the schedule and financial implications of acquiring the missing resources?

On a whiteboard, I itemized the missing capabilities, the required resources, the cost and schedule impacts. The list pretty well filled the whiteboard with blue lines and lettering.

“Is there anything that’s missing, that would hinder our ability to succeed? Is there anything else that would improve our ability to deliver?”

In 1 Short Conversation, We Performed A Miracle

“No,” she said. “I hate to say I came to you saying it can’t be done, and now you’ve convinced me it’s possible.”

In fact, I hadn’t convinced her of anything. I just respected her concerns, asked questions, and helped her build a risk mitigation plan that would save this project.

“We can do it if we get these things, and we can’t do it if we don’t. Is that right?”, I asked.


I wrote up the project change request, for about $50,000. It was just a sliver of the value of the overall initiative. Because we’d identified and communicated the concerns early, the team was able to accommodate the additional responsibilities in the existing schedule. Because the requests were small dollars and very practical in nature, it was an easy funding choice for those with investment accountability. We received an approval the same day. The team went on to complete the work.

*(While I’ve placed conversations in quotes, they’re not exact quotes of the conversations. They’re representative of the spirit and content of the conversations, as I recall them.)

Also published on Medium.

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