Monday, 20 July 2009

6 tips for meeting deadlines

Deadlines focus the mind.

Going on holiday, sitting an exam, or a key client meeting are all examples immovable deadlines that result in higher than normal performance. By the time I’ve finished getting ready for a holiday, I absolutely need one, and strangely enough I’ve never missed a flight. Amazingly teams work to get everything together for an important meeting that somehow wouldn’t happen in the normal course of events.

So deadlines are an important aspect of performance management. But how do we make them work in our favour? Going on holiday, sitting exams and crucial client meetings are all deadlines that work wonders without too much additional management effort. They are external, often imposed on us (apart from the holiday!) and everyone understands their importance. Yes, one has to be organised, yes, one has to plan ahead, and yes, knowing exactly what needs to be done are all important. But the bigger the deadline, the more focused the mind.

What about the internal project planning deadlines? What about those deadlines that would massively improve our overall performance if we could raise performance to the same level as the pre-exam focus level? Here are 6 ways to ensure interim targets and deadlines are always met:
  1. Meet smaller deadlines. Be on time for meetings. Get weekly reports in on time. When the smaller deadlines slip it sends out a clear message that deadlines are unimportant. The army stresses the importance of being punctual, because lives can be lost when people are not. Not all civilians have that discipline, even though projects are often lost through missed deadlines. Practice meeting all deadlines, no matter how small.
  2. Communicate the importance. If no one thinks the deadline important, then no one will bother to meet it. It is, after all, hard work to meet deadlines and extra hours are often involved. The importance of a milestone needs to be communicated so everyone understands what the impact will be if it slips.
  3. Don’t set trivial deadlines. The opposite of ensuring a deadline is communicated, is not crying wolf when deadlines are not important. Save your thunder for the key things that do really matter, and ensure those deadlines are met. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Have fewer, but more important deadlines.
  4. Follow up. Follow up whether a deadline has been missed or met. Praise for a job well done and investigation when milestones are missed. Just never let a deadline pass with no acknowledgement of it.
  5. Work together to solve problems. Any deadline of any importance will likely have difficulties. So get together with other team members, or another colleague, to talk through the difficult stuff and find new answers. Sometimes just articulating where you are stuck can free things up.
  6. Communicate the vision. There are no magic answers to making things happen. Deadlines are a key tool in performance management but they need everyone to believe in what is being aimed for. Communicate the big picture and get everyone committed to the vision.

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