How to miss a deadline

In my earlier post, I opened a discussion about how to avoid missing a deadline.

But what happens if you can’t avoid it?

Projects are always on the frontier, combining elements and ideas and effort to do something that’s not been done before, not quite the way we’re doing it here and now.

And so, bold projects sometimes fail to make their deadline. Even if we build systems and use buffers, sometimes it doesn’t work.

Some thoughts:

  1. Don’t wait until the last minute. Wishful thinking is sometimes confused with optimism, but you probably knew more than four days before the deadline that you weren’t going to meet expectations. If people are building dependencies around your promises, then waiting until you have no choice simply makes the miss worse. Because not only are you late, but you were hiding it.
  2. Don’t minimize the problem. You’re late. Clearly. So say it. Loud and (not quite) proud. By owning the original promise and then being clear that you’re aware of the miss, you help the people who were counting on you feel seen and respected.
  3. Create alternatives. This isn’t always possible, but when it is, it usually leads to better relationships. If an airline can’t have a plane in a certain spot at a certain time, it goes a long way if they do the work of finding all 100 people inconvenienced a new plan, instead of putting that on them, one at a time.
  4. There’s a difference between seeing the damage (and working to ameliorate it) and accepting shame and blame. It’s clear that the future is unclear, and that things happen. If you can clearly outline what you’ve seen and what you’ve learned, it doesn’t make your clients feel better if you also fall on a sword–because if it’s not your fault, the sword is meaningless theater. And if it is your fault, it’s worth telling us that as well.
  5. In short, there’s no good way to make a missed deadline meaningless to the person who was counting on you. Being counted on is a gift. If you want to be counted on next time, best to invest early and often in making that deadline, and then, in the rare cases when it’s not enough, treating your clients with the respect that you’d like to receive in a similar situation.

[Even better, check out out my previous post and create approaches so you don’t miss the deadline in the first place.]