Seems kind of like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? I don’t think you will meet anyone who works as a creative professional, whether their focus is Design, Development, or Marketing, who won’t tell you that deadlines are important to them. However, we have a few very specific reasons as to why deadlines are important to us, and we have very different methods which control how we use deadlines on a daily basis. We have also seen that since so many agencies and developers have adopted a SCRUM methodology over a waterfall approach, the idea of working backward from a target completion date can seem old and outdated. However, we have found that in this case, a traditional approach works for us, and for our clients. We fully expect to evolve and refine our methods over time, but the following points have served us well as a good foundation.
Deadlines Are Important To Our Clients
This is the single greatest reason to manage heavily around deadlines. One of the many reasons we love, the philosophy and business model of Value Pricing is that it puts a laser focus on the needs, wants, impulses, and general best interests of the client.
It is a fact that clients ultimately want 3 things for their project:
- It has to be on time.
- It has to be on budget.
- It has to work.
It’s pretty obvious that the first one on that list is all about deadlines. You can’t have a happy client at the end of a project without completing the project in a reasonable amount of time, and you certainly can’t build a trusting relationship if you consistently miss deadlines and miscommunicate about them. Therefore, if we get deadlines right, we’re well on our way to building a really solid relationship with our clients. Since building trust is one of the reasons we exist (Why do we exist? “To build trust and do great work”), we have made the decision to perfect our methods around setting deadlines. It’s become a key predictive indicator of great client relationships.
Deadlines Are More Critical Without Time Tracking
How far are we through the project? This question is challenging for any service-based agency. The work we do is knowledge-based; our products don’t sit on shelves, they live within our minds. The boundaries and definitions of even the most precisely scoped projects are somewhat fuzzy. In the past, we’ve been able to lean on the crutch of time tracking to measure our involvement in a project at any given point. We could log in and look at who has logged how many hours on the project. Not long ago we decided to abandon time tracking entirely, so that indicator went away. We have shifted our mentality away from tracking hours to tracking duration. This is where milestones and deadlines become critical. When managing a project, we need to plan which team members we need on what projects, at which point in the project and for how long. These factors all impact milestones and the final deadline. If we don’t have a tight process for discussing, creating, and communicating our deadlines and milestones, then we are a ship without a rudder sailing through the oceans of our projects.
Deadlines Inform About Workload and Team Member Happiness
As stated in one of our favorite books, Implementing Value Pricing by Ron Baker,
“If a particular team member is missing deadlines, it is a good indication that person has been given too much work, does not have adequate education to do what has been assigned, is unclear of the assignment responsibilities, is simply not up to the job, or perhaps is having a personal problem. Whatever the reason, the turnaround time provides a leading indicator to firm executives to intervene and correct any problems in real time.”
In short, missing numerous deadlines is an indicator of a deeper problem that needs to be addressed proactively. Addressing these issues will create less stress in the work environment and will create a much happier team over the long term.
Deadlines Are Not a Noose For Our Team
Are deadlines critical? Yes. Do deadlines move? Sometimes. Is that o.k? Yes, but only if handled proactively.
We have long had a saying around the office: “The deadline should serve the project; the project should never serve the deadline.” I honestly don’t know where that came from, but it has always stuck with us. Deadlines are important, yes, but they’re not the most important thing. They are just one part of a very large whole. For us, the most important thing is creating the best solution.
In fact, deadlines have always been a sensitive topic for many Project & Account Managers (what we call PAMS at Gauge), largely because deadlines are tied to both high levels of responsibility and low levels of control. This is a perfect recipe for stress and frustration. In order to become a master PAM, you have to both love and despise deadlines. It falls right in line with the old adage, “Planning is priceless; plans are worthless.”
The reality is, some deadlines will have to move. The goal of the PAM is to be the one proactively moving it, not the one reacting to a deadline which has already moved. We are also big fans of another popular saying from the movie The Dark Knight; according to the Joker “You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go ‘according to plan.’ Even if the plan is horrifying!” We have always laughed at this example, but it does underscore a truth. Every time we have had to move a deadline, if we’ve done it proactively and thoughtfully and put it in the context of the greater good for the project, our clients have been completely fine with it. Then it becomes part of the plan.
On the other hand, every time we have been reactive because we were behind the eight-ball or caught off-guard, it has caused problems. To a client, that is horrifying, and they lose trust in our ability to manage a project. If we predict a change to the timeline and preempt it, then we avoid tension and conflict. In fact, it strengthens the relationship. In this scenario, a deadline becomes a powerful tool for a PAM to build trust, not a noose. The best PAMs understand this inherently.
Deadlines do provide us with a tool to move the project forward and analyze the progress of the project in relation to the completion date goal. However, a great team will hit deadlines. A great team understands the art of engineering an outcome through collaboration and planning; they look forward at potential scenarios and head off problems before they become a problem.
Planning is priceless. With a great team like ours, you can expect achievable deadlines, then hit them.