The fallacy of being “almost done”

Written by: Karl Sakas

As a digital marketing agency PM speaking with developers, designers, and strategists on my team, my least-favorite answer was always that something was “almost done.”

The reality was, things were never almost done—there was always some complication that made things take longer.

Solution: Ban “almost done”

Want better estimates internally? Ban the phrase “almost done.”

Instead, ask people to give specific ETAs. Request a timeline, and ask what might keep that from happening. That risk management will help you adjust your internal estimates (and your padded client-facing estimates) accordingly.

What you’ll get instead: Better answers

By changing your agency’s vocabulary, you’ll get more-useful answers like these:

  • “We’ll have it done Thursday, but it might run over into Friday.” (Translation: It’ll probably be at least Friday; tell the client it’ll be ready Monday)
  • “I should be done tomorrow, unless I run into problems on the API update.” (Translation: There will surely be API problems)
  • “I can finish this Wednesday if we can get the new content by Monday.” (Translation: Make sure we request the content to arrive well before Monday)
  • “I’ll be done in two days, once I complete tasks A, B, and C.” (Translation: The deadline’s doable only if those three tasks are reasonable in that timeline)

Is banning a phrase a draconian solution? Maybe. But it forces everyone to focus on what’s really happening and what it’ll take to finish, instead of clinging to wishful thinking.

Reality check for your digital marketing agency

When it comes to running a digital marketing agency, real timelines are better than fantasy timelines—fix that by banning the phrase “almost done.”

Question: Do you have any banned phrases at your agency?

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