Tips for Never Missing Deadlines
If you are responsible for managing projects, you understand the importance of timelines and meeting deadlines. The work can be much more enjoyable and much less stressful if you follow these tips for never missing deadlines. There are many productivity apps, tools, and programs you can use but ultimately it comes down to your own actions as the project manager.
Missed deadlines can prevent career advancement and damage reputations. Every team member involved in a project is hurt when a deadline is missed. That’s why it is important to take every step to be more organized, have a plan of action, and be assertive in driving the timeline.
Here are a few key tips to make sure you never miss another important deadline.
Tips for Never Missing Deadlines
1. Understand Expectations
Before a project begins you must have a clear understanding of the scope, stakeholders, deliverables, milestones, budget, etc. Typically you would document all of these components in a written strategy or project charter. It’s critical that everyone involved in the project understands the scope, their roles and responsibilities, and deadlines.
It’s common for everyone to leave a meeting with very different points of view about a new project. If no one takes the time to write up the project and everyone runs in their own direction, you run the risk of missing a deadline.
- HSI offers a series on project management and the course on creating a project charter would be helpful here. It outlines the components of the write-up for a clear direction on the project.
- The novice project manager may benefit from a simple course on note-taking. Learn how to discern the difference between a discussion and a decision, outstanding questions, and action items.
2. Gain Commitment
Rarely do you ever run a project where you are the sole stakeholder. You can utilize the written strategy document to review with the key stakeholders to gain commitment on their portion of the project. As a project manager, you will need to get people to do work for you when they don’t report to you. Technically, you don’t have any authority over them but you need to work with them to complete the project.
When you share the project details and involve the stakeholders in the planning, you have a better chance of getting them to complete the work you need from them. Dedicate one of the early planning meetings to reviewing the timelines. If people commit to you in person, in a meeting, in front of their peers, they can’t later deny knowing about their assignment.
- A series on communicating with the C-Suite will be helpful here if you have stakeholders on your project in senior management. Learn how to interact with the senior leaders via different channels like email, in meetings, or a casual conversation in the hallway.
- Gaining commitment is also about accountability. A course on building accountability will help you and your project team take ownership of your responsibilities towards meeting the deadlines.
3. Communicate Timelines
There is an art to getting people in other departments to meet your timelines. After you have gained commitment, it is your job as the project manager to give the stakeholders every opportunity to meet your deadlines. Ask upfront about any planned time out of the office and build your timeline around their schedules. Don’t just communicate the timeline once at the beginning. Remind them. And then, remind them again.
Don’t solely rely on project management software to assign a task and expect the work to be done. You may need to call the person, leave a voicemail, send an email, stop by their office, or all of the above. Send a reminder two weeks out, one week out, the day before, etc. You need to be persistent without being a pest and help them meet the deadline.
- A successful project manager will need to know the difference between being assertive vs. aggressive, how to compromise but not cave, and how to be persistent without being a pest. All of these are covered by our series entitled “This vs. That.”
- Persuasive communication is another topic that can help a project manager learn the skills to be able to lead and influence.
4. Create Contingencies
The only guarantee with project management is there are no guarantees! Nothing ever goes as you planned. You have to build in contingency plans. A co-worker told me a story of a time when she was waiting on approval from a lawyer in New York for verbiage for a marketing offer. The lawyer was informed of the deadline and received the marketing copy several days prior to the deadline. A construction crane fell on the New York office building and the employees had to evacuate.
So, what is a contingency plan for a fallen crane? Luckily my co-worker had padded her timeline just a bit. Building in a few days throughout the timeline was her contingency plan. If you are planning an outdoor event, what happens if it rains? If you are running an IT project, what happens if major problems arise when user testing begins? You have an all-employee meeting in an auditorium and the projector is not compatible with your MacBook Air, what do you do?
- Creating contingency plans is really about risk management. It may be helpful to learn more about identifying the risks associated with meeting your deadlines. Develop a process to look at the “what ifs” of your future project so you can think through your contingencies.
- Another related training topic is problem-solving. Learn how to generate solution ideas from varying perspectives to cover your contingency plans.
- View several of the training courses mentioned above on creating a project charter and being persistent and not a pest.
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Editor's Note: This post was originally published in March 2016 and has been updated for freshness and comprehensiveness.