Project Manager POV: Refusing an Absurd Deadline in Healthcare SaaS

Project Manager POV: Refusing an Absurd Deadline in Healthcare SaaS
  • April 10, 2024

Do you know that saying no to impossible deadlines is among the best career moves you can make to maintain your authority in healthcare project management?

A crucial part of how the Vitamin team built its integrity and client relationships is by refusing tasks we deem impossible to deliver successfully in time. Would you like to do the same? Keep reading for our tried-and-tested advice.

Why Do People Struggle to Refuse Impossible Deadlines?

The inclination to accept impossible requests in work environments comes from a desire to contribute and a fear of hindering progress. In our hustle culture, being a ‘good-doer’ or a ‘productive team member’ often means achieving the seemingly impossible. Otherwise, you’re seen as incapable or unwilling to help the company, which can lead to losing future opportunities.

Sign saying 'ASAP is not a deadline'

At least that’s how it feels in many scenarios.

But we'd like to remind you of the many drawbacks to this line of thinking, even beyond the fact you're bowing to a harmful work culture.

Not saying no to unreasonable deadlines raises the likelihood of negative outcomes for your company and career, as you might've already experienced.

After all, performance comes first in healthcare SaaS, and you can’t nail regulatory compliance, seamless interoperability, or watertight safety on an impossible schedule.

The consequences fall on you as the Project Manager, and they will reflect on your career. Much more than saying no, explaining your reasoning, and renegotiating the request with the company leaders and other stakeholders.

What Makes a Deadline Impossible?

You’ve received a project request, and the end date is making your stomach churn. How do you tell if it’s actually impossible or just hard?

If applicable, use your past healthcare project management experience while gauging the request. You know your team inside and out; you’ve already led the members through countless projects. Have they been successful with tight timelines and similar tech stacks before? It might be an indication that this one’s also possible. 

As a rule, if your team needs to work double shifts to make the project happen within a deadline, it’s impossible. Of course, external dependencies and cooperation with third-party vendors go toward the final assessment. You can’t magic components or capabilities into existence.

Ultimately, it pays to listen to your gut and back yourself up with data. And if necessary, refuse the project with the existing requests.

5 Strategies to Refuse Impossible Deadlines

You’re a buffer between the CEO and developers, having to balance requests and realism. In this context, saying no is a calculated move to preserve the integrity of your position, project, and company.

Here are five ways to skillfully articulate a much-needed refusal or renegotiation.

1. Don’t Beat Around the Bush

Say no and explain your reasons immediately. Being up-front eliminates annoyance and the impression you’re leading on the board members. If possible, refuse in person, not over a call or email. Keep it straightforward:

I find the proposed project deadline impossible to meet without sacrificing the standards of the requested deliverables. I’d be happy to do a bit of planning and come back to you with a few alternative dates.

Pro tip: Whenever you have the opportunity, give an alternative solution to avoid coming across as a nay-sayer.

2. Express Appreciation

Getting a project assigned to you is a positive, and you should treat it as such. Thank the superior for the opportunity, even if you have to decline it. The trick is to show appreciation without people-pleasing and slipping into acceptance.

I appreciate your trust in my skills and understand the importance of this project. However, considering my team’s current workload and commitments, taking on an additional project might compromise the quality of our deliverables.

3. Explain Your Reasoning

The particulars of your refusal may not make a massive difference — but they could. Be honest about the reasons the project deadline doesn’t work. Discuss which values you’re seeking to uphold and how they relate to the time constraints.

After a careful evaluation, I’m concerned that accelerating the project timeline may harm the security/quality/reliability of our healthcare SaaS solution. Rushing the process could introduce errors that we cannot afford.

Pro tip: Show domain authority, delivering data, processes, and numbers to prove your point. A good Project Manager is always ready to report on where their team stands.

4. Counter With an Alternate Deadline

If a deadline isn’t urgent, rejection isn’t your sole option. Instead, offer a more realistic project deadline.

To guarantee we can provide a reliable product, I suggest a more realistic deadline would be [provide a specific date]. This adjustment allows us the time for thorough testing and ensures we give our full attention to every detail.

5. Suggest Non-Time-Based Alternatives

What if later deadlines aren’t possible? The conversation doesn’t have to end. Follow up with alternative options to show you’re doing everything in your power to make the request possible. Suggest a tighter scope, a higher budget, or relocating parts of your team to the new project.

The constraints of this project are too much for our developer team. We wouldn’t be able to meet all the requirements, and that’s not an option. Here’s what we can do — [alternate options]. I’d suggest [option that’s best for the company]. What are your thoughts?

Pro tip: Hiring a partner to help with a looming deadline is another option to support your healthcare project management and get that software out of the door on time. It’s also often the situation where Vitamin Software steps in.Learn how we can help.

Saying No for Success: A Vitamin Software Success Story

vitamin team success

Vitamin recently developed a patient-pharmacist interaction platform for a US healthcare SaaS vendor. They approached us with a tight deadline and a small budget, neither of which would let us deliver the quality we’re known for. But we didn’t refuse outright — instead, we analyzed their needs and counter-offered with a lean alternative.

We began by performing a Vitamin Sanity Check, analyzing the client’s proposed solution and whether it was the optimal way to move forward. In this case, we combined our insights into a data-driven report to the CEO, detailing the need to reduce the project scope if they wanted to meet the launch date. We removed all unnecessary user stories and kept the most impactful ones in the app.

We acted as consultants, prioritizing client success within the constraints they set. The client met the target launch date and saved $500,000, proving that our method works.

Key Takeaways for Project Managers

In an ideal world, Project Managers would always have enough time to devise stress-free project timelines. While that’s not always the reality, you don’t have to say yes to impossible ones. Refusing unrealistic deadlines builds credibility and reassures your superiors that, once you accept a project, your ‘yes’ is to be trusted.

Keep these key takeaways top of mind the next time you encounter a situation where refusing a deadline is necessary:

  • Rather than frequently saying no, make realistic planning your MO. Communicate challenges to the board regularly to avoid surprises.
  • Refusals are smoother when you express transparency, honesty, appreciation, and proactivity. Take this approach in every conversation, in healthcare project management and otherwise.
  • Set clear expectations from the beginning of the project regarding timelines, milestones, and potential roadblocks.
Vitamin Software

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Vitamin’s Breakfast Club for Project Managers

Sometimes, all the books and podcasts in the world can’t replace the benefits of having a community to help you answer questions and resolve dilemmas. That’s why we launched something we believe is the ultimate resource for project management in healthcare: The Project Manager Breakfast Club.

This community is a space for collaboration and shared learning. We meet weekly to discuss the challenges faced by our PMs and yourselves. Then, we have a brainstorming session at the end of each meeting, helping each other resolve anything currently bugging you or slowing you down.