Project Management Institute

On deadline



Setting objectives is all well and good, but then one has to live by them. And it's not always easy to get the whole project team to cooperate in putting together a plan of action and then committing to a schedule laying out the flow of tasks required to achieve the goals.

Among the many teams I work with, there's an interesting balance of behaviors, depending upon the individual team member's personal character and values.

When it comes to meeting deadlines, behavior typically falls into one of the following categories:

Early: Always ready, always in plenty of time, always able to make changes

On time: Makes the deadline, accurate and complete

All apologies: Not yet done, but full of regret and promises to “get right on it”

Just plain late: No forgiveness sought or apology offered—simply delay after delay

A colleague of mine always calls for work to be completed by certain times and dates. But all the team members know the deliverables are rarely acted upon on the due date. In that type of climate, team members habitually respond late, knowing it won't impact later deliverables.

But if a project manager has earned the recognition of being punctual, responsive and time-oriented, team members soon learn to deliver to those requirements.

What's Your Definition of Deadline?

To create a constructive team culture in which work is completed in a punctual manner, there are several aspects to consider.

The project leader must first gain a sense of the relationship between deliverables. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) refers to mandatory, discretionary and external dependencies when scheduling. Project managers must develop a full understanding of all the key constraints affected by deliverable timeliness versus delay. Factors include cost impacts, quality impacts and, of course, client satisfaction. Focus on which stakeholders are to receive the deliverables and their preferences in time-keeping, level of detail required and their intended actions upon receipt of the deliverables.


It often comes down to responsibility—both at the personal and team levels. Each individual needs to assess his or her own behavior, punctuality, communication, precision and responsiveness.

A team charter can alleviate much of the frustration caused by a lack of consistency around what a deadline actually means for a particular project team. The charter forms a basis for expectation management within the team and facilitates open discussion around communication, responsiveness and action on deliverables. I prefer to always acknowledge receipt of communication and deliverables promptly, so the team remains aware of my respect and appreciation for their timeliness.

The use of the term “deadline” is to be employed with caution and with a commitment to “consequences for delay or late delivery.” The term originally referred to the line around a military prison. If prisoners passed the “deadline,” they would be shot. While that's certainly effective, our project teams need to work in a climate where honesty supersedes the threat of being shot. And timely communication is a must to ensure we all survive the espoused deadlines. PM


Sheilina Somani, PMP, is owner of U.K.- based Positively Project Management, providing consulting, mentoring and development services.

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