When your project has a tight deadline, follow these steps to deliver in a short time without sacrificing project quality or team sanity.
The following is a guest post by Heather Redding.
Project deadlines are valuable to teams in multiple ways.
Deadlines keep people focused and help them manage their time effectively. They also help with quality control. Well-planned deadlines give management and teams plenty of time to inspect completed projects for mistakes.
Deadlines prevent scope creep.
And meeting project deadlines can also be rewarding for employees. It gives team members a sense of accomplishment and encourages them to keep up their hard work.
Usually, the project manager and team can plan the project schedule and identify milestones according to manageable customer deadlines and target dates.
But there will inevitably come a time when your team will get a project with a tight deadline. Your team may have serious legal or regulatory requirement to meet. Maybe a stakeholder has promised a customer a quick delivery without consulting with the team.
Yes, that happens.
Or you may find that even a carefully planned project suddenly has a deadline that’s hard to meet. This could happen because of unexpected complications, changes to team structure, or other various reasons.
Regardless, when faced with a tight deadline, some teams don’t know what to do.
They may lose focus right at the time when they need it the most.
To further complicate matters, some businesses sacrifice the quality of the end-product to meet their deadline. This isn’t an ideal solution.
But it is possible to maintain project quality and still meet a tight deadline.
Best tips for dealing with tight deadlines
Follow these guidelines to help your project team meet a tight deadline and still maintain quality – and the sanity of your team.
It’s possible to meet a tight project deadline – and still maintain quality.
1. Break the project down into manageable chunks
One of the biggest mistakes any company can make is to try finishing an entire project in one fell swoop. Not only is this inefficient, but it also leaves room for plenty of mistakes and confusion.
Additionally, such a strategy can fail to motivate employees who don’t feel a sense of accomplishment until the very end of the project.
Instead, it helps to work on projects in a piecemeal fashion by breaking them down into small, digestible chunks. Each chunk should represent a task or a series of tasks. When the team completes all the pieces and combines them in the end, the project as a whole is complete.
To make sure that things stay on schedule, assign deadlines to each chunk. And bear in mind how these mini-deadlines will affect the overall time frame of the entire project.
2. Set priorities
Once the project has been broken down, prioritize the work. This means clearing every employee’s schedule of all inessential activities. Put anything that isn’t urgent on hold.
Even important projects can afford to wait a little as long as they aren’t also under tight deadlines.
As you prioritize tasks, there are a few key things to take into consideration:
- The size of each task
Small tasks are easy to achieve and give employees a sense of accomplishment. Larger tasks need a lot of time devoted to them.
- The complexity or ease of each task
Similar to the size of a task, its complexity can also affect the employees’ level of motivation. A complex task can frustrate team members if they don’t understand the work.
- The resources required for each task
Some tasks you can complete with a simple pen and paper. Others need significant resources to cross the finish line.
- The relative importance of each task and its effect on the outcome of the project
The more impact a task can have on the quality of the entire project, the higher you should prioritize it. Finish these tasks as early as possible. This will help avoid any unpleasant surprises later down the road.
- The reliance of each task on other tasks
Whereas team members can work on some tasks at any time, other tasks may be constrained until they receive critical input from other tasks.
Different companies consider different factors when prioritizing tasks. What matters the most is that each company is aware of why it ascribes specific importance to each task.
Also, priorities change, so it is normal for teams to revisit their own prioritized list of tasks frequently and update it.
3. Tune out distractions
Distractions are all around us. Employees at an office have to deal with all the noise surrounding them, including ringing phones, buzzing printers, incoming emails, and people bustling in and out.
This also applies to remote employees, whether they work at home or from their favorite café.
For some, ignoring these distractions can be easy, but for others, these distractions can interrupt their workflow and cause them to lose concentration. Social media has made tuning out the outside world even more difficult.
Distractions aren’t limited to busy offices, crowded cafes, and phones vibrating with notifications. A cluttered desk can also be distracting as it won’t only break someone’s focus, but it will also make it challenging to find a single important document among heaps and bounds of discarded paper.
Companies need to find effective ways to deal with all these distractions, and they need to encourage their employees to do the same, especially during crunch time.
This can range from reducing the number of meetings held to restricting communication to the purely essential.
Additionally, employees need to find ways to stay focused. For some, this might mean having an excellent music playlist on hand that lets them drown out any ambient noise.
4. Ask for help when needed
Both companies and employees need to learn to ask for help as early as possible, particularly if they feel that they might have a hard time meeting their deadline. Companies can achieve this by outsourcing some of the tasks to outside teams, whereas employees can either directly ask for help from their other colleagues or delegate tasks to them.
When letting someone help, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Attach a deadline to delegated tasks so that the entire project can be finished on time. Optimally, any task that you pass along needs to be completed earlier than normal to give time for revisions and enacting necessary changes.
- Communication is essential here. It’s not enough to pass along the task; companies and employees alike should explain expectations as well as possible challenges that come with the task.
5. Make every second count
Even when there are no distractions around, there is no guarantee that the work done is 100 percent efficient.
Without a clear workflow, there will probably be redundancies where different employees work on the same task, replicating each other’s work.
Also, according to Parkinson’s Law, “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” In other words, setting unrealistic deadlines for any given task can be harmful.
A deadline that is too short will lead to a steep drop in quality, whereas a deadline that is too long will lead to wasted time and money your company could better spend elsewhere.
To maximize productivity, companies need to think about the best way to manage their time. After they’ve broken down a project into chunks, they need to assign clear responsibilities to avoid redundancies and wasted time.
Avoid striving for perfection or analysis paralysis – which can cost valuable time when meeting a tight deadline
When setting deadlines, it is important to stay realistic while avoiding perfectionist ideals. Spending too much time perfecting a particular task can be inefficient because, after a certain point, any effort put into a task will deliver diminishing returns.
Another problem with perfectionism is analysis paralysis, which can be downright destructive if not addressed.
What if You Can’t Meet a Tight Deadline?
By meeting deadlines, companies establish trust with their clients and display reliability. Also, most projects are smaller chunks in a much larger whole, so any delay can have significant repercussions for other partners.
With this in mind, there will be moments when a company won’t meet a tight deadline despite its best effort.
If you’ve got a short time to complete work and can’t meet the tight deadline, manage expectations so everyone is aligned on what will be delivered when.
It might not be ideal, but it’s important to adjust everyone else’s expectations. Reaching out and exhibiting full transparency will build trust and show that a company is willing to own its actions – even in failure.
Tight deadlines aren’t ideal for teams. But there are ways to handle them that allow you to still deliver quality. And if you find you can’t meet a deadline, maintain trust through honestly and transparency.
Both of these will help your team be successful no matter what comes your way.
Heather Redding is a part-time assistant manager, solopreneur and writer based in Aurora, Illinois. She is also an avid reader and a tech enthusiast. When Heather is not working or writing, she enjoys her Kindle library and a hot coffee. Reach out to her on Twitter.