Deadlines are not optional

A word that’s often misused by businesses is ‘deadline’.

The dictionary definitions of a deadline are:

1) A line drawn within or around a prison that a prisoner passes at the risk of being shot

2 a) A date or time before which something must be done

2 b) The time after which copy is not accepted for a particular issue of a publication

Definition 2 (a) ‘A date or time before which something must be done’ is the one that’s applicable to business (unless you are a publisher, in which case 2 (b) would also apply).

I have often observed that people’s attitude towards deadlines is such that they overlook the word ‘must’, as detailed in the dictionary definition. The ‘deadline’ is treated as a target date, with few or no consequences being imposed for missing that target.

Incidentally, I would not remotely suggest that the consequence for missing a deadline, or overstepping one, should be shooting someone – although I must confess, I have been tempted!

If there are no consequences for missing a deadline, it’s very likely that people will develop an attitude indicating that deadlines don’t matter or are unimportant at best. So shipment dates are missed and projects are delayed. One of the oldest adages says, ‘Time is Money’. And time wasted is money wasted.

Deadlines attaching to projects are particularly important. Projects are often multi-stage, with phases that rely upon the results or output from the previous stage. If you miss the deadline for one stage, everything after that stage will also be delayed.

Changing people’s attitude towards deadlines is vitally important. This will take time but involves only two steps.

The first step is to identify who owns the project or process: who has ultimate responsibility for the deadline?

However, there are many situations where accountability isn’t clear – it may be shared, with no single manager owning the process. This is messy and can lead to a blame culture in which ‘It’s someone else’s fault’ is the underlying theme. Someone has to take ownership. They are then empowered to hold the other contributors to account.

The second step is to hold the owner to account. That doesn’t mean a public roasting is required.  Just maintain the emphasis on the deadline.