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How do you get project deadlines taken seriously?

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Question: "Where I work, the concept of a deadline has become a bit of a joke. We have a deadline for everything, but if one is missed, it’s simply extended until the work gets done. This creates conflicting expectations and aggravation, especially for the admin staff, which is always waiting for the bosses to finish what they need to. What are the best ways to make deadlines respected when we admins don’t really have the power to discipline?” – Jan, Staff Assistant

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

KTatley November 22, 2013 at 8:30 am

At the heart: not meeting deadlines is a performance issue. Performance issues are addressed with feedback. There isn’t enough space to go into the full technique of the feedback model here (the module is more than 50 pages.) But I can suggest that you can try positive feedback to avoid some of the conflict of negative feedback. Give positive feedback for the deadlines that they do meet and ask for them to have more items on time. Even better: ask them to commit to having more items on time. See my article for more information. Also be sure that when you give feedback that you detail the consequences of the missed deadlines in a way that is important to them.

The fact that it is so prevalent suggests that it’s a “culture” problem so in addition to repeated individual instances of feedback I suggest you do some staff engagement on the issue. Suddenly changing your behavior without explaining what is happening and why is going to confuse your everyone and result in pushback. There is more on this in the change management section of the module. Some of the key suggestions include: Clearly describing the problem and impacts, discussing solutions, asking for a commitment to change, follow up.

One final item is: How the deadlines are established is very important: When deadlines are allocated, secure their verbal commitment to deliver on that date. It’s as simple as: “Jon please finish task XYZ by Tuesday at 1pm. Can you do that?” You are asking them a polite question, you are not forcing them to do anything and they are making a commitment.

Keith Tatley. Founder of
“Make managing easy”


Mark January 24, 2013 at 5:10 pm

We do something similar to what Jon does. There is a dry eraser board with color coded magnets and a row for each person’s name. The tasks are listed, with due dates. The magnet is blue if the due date has not arrived yet AND the task has not been completed. When a person completes the task the magnet is swapped with a green one. Once the due date arrives, if the task still isn’t done, the magnet is swapped with a red one. Nobody wants red, since they know everyone can see it, so the tasks that are put on this board are usually done on time. There is an old management saying, “What gets checked gets done.” Almost every thing that we follow up on and track like this, gets done on a timely basis. Things we don’t track are regularly done late.


Julie January 24, 2013 at 4:25 pm

I think a combination of Kathryn’s & Kim’s suggestions would be a brilliant solution. Thanks for sharing.

But I think Jon’s suggestion would be a real morale buster and could lead to a hostile work environment.


Jon January 23, 2013 at 8:41 am

People really only learn the ramifications of something if there’s a work catastrophe, sadly. The thing we try to do is keep a running log of all official projects that have a deadline; a missed deadline is the last box on the spreadsheet, with the date the project was completed written in bold red if it was late, regular green if it was on time. This way, at least you have a nice fat printout at the end of the year that shows how many were overdue, and it can generate a discussion as to why things aren’t getting done.


Karen January 22, 2013 at 12:53 pm

A simple explanation about why the deadline is important might go a long way. For example, “Your report is needed by xx/xx/xx so we can include that data in our report to the Board of Directors on xx/xx/xx.”


Marcie January 22, 2013 at 10:58 am

I use Outlook reminders–maybe an excessive amount, but it reinforces the fact that there is a specific project deadline in mind. Every time a reminder pops up, everyone involved in the project is at least told once again of the original vision for completion.


Kim January 17, 2013 at 5:38 pm

I have monthly reporting that I have to rely on others (who are above me in the heirarchy) to complete. One person in particular would never submit the needed information timely no matter how many times or ways she was reminded. Finally, I began sending out the report early in the day on the due date for a ‘preliminary department review’ and asking for any corrections / changes without her information. After about twice, she made sure her information was submitted on time.


Susan Barker January 17, 2013 at 4:48 pm

I give everyone a deadline of one week prior to the actual due date. That way I minimize the possibility of deadline issues. Additonally, I blackout time on their calendars daily for only that work. I’m not always the most beloved of individuals, buty my Director doesn’t get late reports.


Kathryn Shearer January 17, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Two to three weeks before the due date, I send an encouraing email to all those involved in the project that owe reports to the office. At one week before the due date, I send a thank you email (to all) thanking those who have responded. The day before I send out a third emial (to all) listing those who have reports outstanding. I can’t promise 100% response, but it has increased my results to 90%!


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