On Missed Deadlines
I’ll never forget the time years ago when I was working on a project that required a client send me a critical set of data by a mutually agreed upon date. I even padded in some time so I’d have it in plenty of time. The deadline slid. And kept sliding. They wanted to be sure they had it all before they sent it. I finally got down on my knees and begged. Our team pulled it together in time for the senior leader briefing, but we pulled out our hair in the process.
Why is it that some organizations, and people, take deadlines seriously, while others take them as a suggestion? This trait plagues so many companies, and the cost is high. Just look at Boeing. In 2012, the FAA fined them $13.5 million simply for failing to meet the deadline to provide manuals on preventing fuel tank explosions. At the outset of 2013, the FAA grounded the 787 while it went to work fixing those batteries. Commercial Aircraft chief executive Ray Connor told the press there was no question most of the mistakes were made early on in the program.
Missed deadlines are almost always a result of a failure to communicate.
The trouble is there isn’t much really good advice out there on how to get better. When I Googled “tips on meeting deadlines,” all that came back were articles on personal productivity. I don’t know about you, but I have little trouble meeting my own deadlines. It’s coordinating the work of many that can trip up even the best-organized leader.
The cost isn’t only financial; our organizations pay the price in other ways that are harder to measure, like engagement, productivity and innovation.
You can articulate a better project management flow, and do a better job getting on top of projects, but I think there’s another answer that is much more simple. Deadlines aren’t so much about rules as respect. Your organization has to create a culture where people respect each other’s need to get things done.
We also have to have the wisdom to know when good enough is good enough, or when a project requires more time to get it right. Heart surgery requires perfection – brochures do not. We have to agree on the definition of success before we slide the target date further and further back.
My high school orchestra leader used to say, “On time is late, and early is on time.” I used to hate it when he said it, but funny how it’s always ringing in my head.
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