Up until very recently, I was a sincere believer of the mantra “don’t make excuses, do what you said you would do”. I took it as literally as possible, and have been known to see projects through to the bitter end, or die trying.
Well, I still believe in the spirit of that idea, but I’ve adopted a more nuanced, “real world” perspective on it. Increasingly, what anyone says they’ll do doesn’t just depend on them. There are costs, conflicts, schedules, and other parties involved in almost every undertaking (professional and otherwise), and individuals can’t possibly control all the variables.
My old approach to these situations was to think “rather than make excuses, I’ll just put off that callback/email/status update a little longer until I have good news to report”.
This does far more harm than good. Communication is just as important as execution to most professionals. (Or even more so - why do you think useless companies stay in business? They communicate like they’re useful!)
So what to do? Make excuses!
Don’t offer an excuse as a cop out, offer it in the interest of transparency. Accept responsability where necessary.
Mostly use it as a vehicle to let people know you haven’t forgotten them. When you show that their worries are your worries, they trust you, even when things aren’t going according to plan.
So go make some excuses! The alternative is indefinite silence, which in my experience, is only broken with good news maybe 40% of the time anyway. So the other 60% of the time is made even worse because you were hoping to pull out a miracle, and left the phone off the hook in the mean time.