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Every IT project takes exactly this long

A white clock, a pen, a stack of papers, and a white phone on top of a white tabletop

One of the more frustrating parts of the IT profession is project “duration”.

Unlike pizza delivery where expectation (regardless of traffic, customer demand, kitchen staffing, ingredient availability) is “within 45 minutes”, IT work is not obligated to such expectations. And yet people expect (demand?) predictability and consistency.

So while clients would like things to take

  • as long as the last time

  • faster than the last time

  • as long as it “should” take

  • as long as they were told it would take

There is only ONE duration you should be adhering to: it takes as long as it takes.

If you think this is obvious or a simple concept, you may be surprised. IT pros routinely facing expectations about time-to-complete which require expectation setting, communication, and other “taxing” items.

“How long will this take?” – BOOM. You have some work to do. They’re asking you for something finite. And you have to give them something more broad. This means more work for you: explaining why it’s not as simple as a “23 minutes” answer.


  • give them a range (between 12 and 26 minutes)

  • give them worst case scenario (26 minutes or longer)

  • give them best case scenario (12 minutes)

  • give them a no-way-to-know answer (“impossible to guess, too many factors”)

The only “right” answer for your client is the one that works for them. So you shouldn’t assume that the same answer will work for each person. Some people are reasonable and like a range. Some are conservative and prefer worst-case and enjoy being pleasantly surprised.

Apple has a iPhones ship a day or two sooner for many customers. This pleases many of them. If Apple pads the deadline TOO much, though, they risk customer backlash. So it’s a balancing act.

How long will this OS upgrade take? It really depends. Do you want the technical answer or the non-technical one? That’s what I ask people. This really helps me target my answer in a way that’s not going to upset them. They don’t want to hear about cached files or esoteric library details. Or maybe they do.

“Most procedures of this type take around _____ minutes but every one is different. I’ve seen some take as long as ______. ”

If you don’t raise your tone slightly on the bolded text, they will ignore you and only hear the best or average case.

So good news: it takes as long as it takes and that’s not your burden.

But explaining that to the customer is your job, and it’s hard. But very rewarding because you get to surprise and delight them if you set the expectations properly!

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