PM_deadlines_490x360Ask 3 different people and you could get 3 different definitions of a project deadline. Is it something that must be respected? Should be respected? Or rather an option to be exercised if you feel like it? To make deadlines work properly for you in project management, it’s important to have a clear notion of what they are and how to handle them. Project management apps can then help you set, track, manage and update them.

So – Are We Talking about a Deadline or a Target?

A deadline is just what its name indicates – if you cross the line without delivering what you should, then you’re dead (figuratively speaking). For example, a deadline may be defined for getting a sales bid in by a given date after which no further bid will be accepted. If you miss the deadline, you will have wasted time and effort for nothing. Dates for filing your company accounts or paying your company taxes are also often considered to be deadlines, although if you miss them, there is often a solution – pay the additional financial penalty!

On the other hand, a target date is something you aim for, but that you might conceivably miss. It might be the installation of a new IT system or the completion of an office move. It might even be a product release date, depending on any commitments made to customers or stakeholders. Miss a target date and you end up with egg on your face, but usually you can still salvage something afterwards.

Who Wants to Know?

Many people may be interested in deadlines, and how they are going to be met. They include:

  • Project managers – personal pride and career prospects may depend on meeting the deadline
  • Team members – will want reassurance that deadlines are achievable given what has to be delivered and when
  • Customers – will be eagerly expecting (hopefully!) your product or service
  • Other stakeholders – including management and company shareholders looking for revenue and profitability

How Can You Figure Out How to Meet Deadlines?

The conventional way to calculate the time and resources needed for a project is to start at the beginning and work your way through the end. This gives you a target date for your project deliverables (whatever they may be). However, deadlines are imposed and immutable. So if your first cut of a plan extends beyond the deadline, you’ll have to rethink it until it fits. Project management apps have tools to take the pain out of this process. They can automatically flag scheduling or resource conflicts, and let you dynamically adjust your planning on-screen.

  • Critical path planning. A well-known PM tool for planning tasks and resources along a timeline is the Gantt chart. This is an intuitive graphic built with rules to make sure that tasks are correctly sequenced. Some tasks can be done in parallel, thus saving total elapsed time. Others must be done one after another. This may be because certain key people cannot work on two tasks at the same time, or because the output from one task is used as the input for the next one. Wrike, Clarizen and Zoho Projects offer Gantt functionality, among others.
  • Critical chain planning. This approach reverses the planning process. You start from the deadline and estimate tasks working backwards. In applying this technique, you also consolidate the individual task safety margins into a global (and overall smaller) buffer. Advantages include increased productivity by avoiding the trap of ‘work expanding to fill the time available’. Sciforma offers this functionality.
  • Multiple projects, multiple deadlines. Sometimes you may have more deadlines than you can handle. It may be possible to prioritize according to returns, risks and resource availabilities. Project portfolio management from PM apps like EPM Live and Projectplace let you assess the best mix of projects taking into account these different criteria.

Getting the Deadline Message Out

Once you’ve figured out which deadlines are to be met and how you’ll do it, the next step is to tell the others. Project management software for SMBs can help encourage, manage and schedule the vital communication for deadlines to be a) understood, b) remembered, and c) met. Examples of tools and PM apps providing them are:

  • Social project management (Clarizen)
  • Email-centric project management (Wrike)
  • Wikis and microblogs (JIRA)
  • Project meeting scheduling (Projectplace)
  • Reports and notifications from (Mavenlink)
  • Real-time project collaboration (AtTask).

Sticking to Deadlines – 7 Things You Should Never Do

A deadline needs to be achievable, even if it is imposed. Achieving the deadline should then be good for the business, good for morale and a normal (not exceptional) state of affairs. However, it’s possible that you’ll have to deal with deadlines that are not just aggressive, but simply unachievable. This may be because of changes in business objectives or the competitive environment. It may also be because of a manager’s desire to appear ‘results-oriented’. Here’s a list of seven deadline sins it pays to avoid:

  1. Pressuring your project team to work harder. Quarts don’t fit into pint pots. Reduced timescales means either reduced deliverables or more resources.
  2. Making unrealistic promises. Use your PM app to help spot potential problems or conflicts up front. Use it again to politely but firmly demonstrate project limits to others if required.
  3. Confusing urgency and importance. This alone can wreck a good project schedule and derail meeting deadlines.
  4. Setting arbitrary deadlines. Don’t let personal satisfaction interfere with real business objectives.
  5. Giving teams incentives for meeting deadlines. Meeting deadlines should be the norm. Making a big deal out of meeting a deadline suggests that it’s the exception instead. Saying “thank you” after the fact is fine, but beware of offering bonuses, etc. up-front.
  6. Amputating parts of the project process. Testing and quality assurance are often victims here, squeezed out in the hope that everything will work. In that case, you’d better hope you can persuade customers to stay after you deliver faulty products or services.
  7. Being driven, instead of driving your project. Luckily, good PM apps give you ample functionality to schedule, communicate and manage your project properly, and to show stakeholders that you’re already making the best use of available resources.

Start meeting project deadlines better today. This list of project management apps available via GetApp will help you compare solutions that are right for your business. You can try out PM apps for free as well to choose the one you like best.