How to Never Again Miss a Project Deadline

Missing deadlines is one of the surest breaking points in the client / agency relationship. Project deadlines can either be communicated to you in the project brief itself, or you might be the one giving the deadline. In either case, once a project deadline is set, clients expect you to deliver on it. When clients stop doing business with your agency because you’re not meeting deadlines, it IS your fault.

Even though agencies are used to the “hustle” and the constant juggling between multiple clients, projects, and deadlines, occasional slips can still happen. To stop this from happening to your agency, ensure your team meets their deadlines with ease by following the below seven tips:

  1. Ask for More Time Than You’ll Need

    Hofstadter’s Law states: “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law”.

    Basically, you can assume no matter how long you estimate a task to take, it will generally take a little longer. There are so many factors that can affect how long a project takes, from limited resources to a change in project scope. Keep this in mind when developing estimates for client projects. Even if you are 100% positive it will only take two weeks to complete a project, know that your estimate will likely be inaccurate and you’ll need more time.

    To save yourself and your team from missing project deadlines, your first step should be to set what you consider reasonably accurate time estimates. Next, you should add a couple more days to your original estimate and offer the client a deadline based on this revised timeline.

  2. Set an Internal Project Deadline

    According to Parkinson’s Law, work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. We’ve all experienced the rush of working against a deadline and can probably agree that projects tend to be completed right at the last minute, often leaving little cushion or review time.

    Instead, give your project two deadlines. First, a client deadline, i.e., the date you commit to handing over the work (or for completing some milestone). To make sure that you don’t miss this deadline, add an internal deadline to your project or milestone. Your project’s internal deadline is the deadline that you give yourself and your team for finishing the project – usually a few days to a week before the client deadline

    Internal deadlines can be as powerful as real deadlines when you take them seriously. They work for two main reasons:

    1. Internal deadlines provide your team with a specific amount of time for a final project review before sharing with the client.
    2. Internal deadlines also build in extra time as protection against roadblocks, mistakes, revisions, etc before the client deadline.
  3. Single-Task by Blocking Time

    The American Psychological Association shares that “brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time”. Not only does multitasking make you less productive, but it also makes the complexity of the tasks look greater.

    Instead, to make sure that you deliver every project on time, ask your team members to practice single-tasking by blocking time in their calendar for specific tasks. Blocking time improves your focus – when you’re doing just one task at one time, you can focus on it fully instead of worrying about the zillion other tasks on your list. When working on client projects, your team members should create time slots for specific tasks in their work schedules. Google calendar is one tool you can use to do this.

  4. Break Up Projects into Smaller Tasks

    Do you know that, on average, “large IT projects run 45 percent over budget and 7 percent over time, while delivering 56 percent less value than predicted”?

    Does that surprise you? The fact is, complex projects are especially difficult to finish within a set timeline. Complex projects, like large websites, often involve many different factors and people – which can combine to create a project delay. Not to mention, they can also be overwhelming.

    One way to manage larger projects without losing time, missing deadlines, or overwhelming your team is to break the project down into several smaller tasks. This way, your team can work on the project one task at a time,without being distracted or feeling overwhelmed by the project as a whole, and complete it before the due date.

    Needmore, a consulting and design studio based in Portland, breaks down their typical website project into 5 major stages: Define, Structure, Design, Build, Launch (they use Trello to manage their projects). Depending on the nature of your projects, decide how you can break them down into smaller, more manageable chunks of work.

  5. Request Regular Reports on Internal Milestones

    The Dominican University conducted research on goals and found that 76% of participants that sent weekly progress reports either accomplished their goals or were at least halfway there – significantly more than the 43% who did not send weekly progress reports. The study concludes that accountability, commitment, and writing down one’s goals increases the likelihood that the goals will be achieved.

    You can use the above insight and establish several internal milestones (goals) in your project and ask your team members to report their daily / weekly progress to you. Establishing accountability on your milestones will ensure the project is going as planned and will be completed on time. Not to mention, creating internal milestones and determining how long each milestone will take can also help you create more accurate client deadlines, which we discussed in Tip #1.

  6. Use a Project Management Tool

    To further aid in tracking your project’s progress, use a project management tool. There are many tools available (we even reviewed a few project management tools in this previous post) and they help teams stay on the same page and on task. Most modern collaboration tools let you monitor the progress of your project, define goals, deadlines, set reminders, and due dates and more for the important milestones.

  7. Delegate Work

    Findings from research done by London Business School Professor, Julian Birkinshaw and PA Consulting Group productivity expert, Jordan Cohen indicate that:

    “… knowledge workers spend a great deal of their time—an average of 41%—on discretionary activities that offer little personal satisfaction and could be handled competently by others. So why do they keep doing them?”

    Agencies often have several repeat, non-critical tasks in their projects. If you start outsourcing these, you’ll free up a lot of time for your in-house resources – who can then use that time to work on more important, revenue-generating tasks. By outsourcing some of your project work, and by freeing up more time of your time, you can complete your project well ahead of the schedule.

    For example, a web design agency can outsource documentation and get freelancers to create user guides and manuals for their customers. If you aren’t sure about the tasks you can outsource, take this simple test: Make Time for the Work That Matters (designed by the same research team).

    However, keep quality in mind. When you delegate tasks to freelancers, do your due diligence to ensure the assignee is competent, up to your agency’s level of quality, capable of returning the work on time. Keeping a good base of freelancers you can reach out to from time to time will help you with this.

When it comes right down to it, meeting deadlines is one of the most important things your agency can do to ensure happy (and maybe repeat!) customers. If your team is having trouble meeting deadlines, implementing the above tactics will help.

What are your other tips for making sure that you hit your project deadlines?