How to Manage a Missed Deadline

Hey - sorry it took me a while to get around to writing this article. I did my best, but it’s been a crazy week and I’ve just been so busy with all my different projects. Somehow it just kept slipping down my task list. But better late than never, right?

Let me tell you something right now... you never want to start a conversation or email with words similar to those I used in the opening paragraph. Sometimes deadlines can be tough to meet, but they exist for a reason. When you miss them, you’re creating problems, however unintentionally.

If by some unfortunate circumstance, even after making your very best efforts, you still somehow manage to miss the deadline, don’t worry. I’m going to tell you how to deal with the situation so you come out of it more or less unscathed. Unless your boss or client is a complete psycho, in which case all bets are off.

See Also: The Sociopathic Boss: A-Worker’s Worst Nightmare

1. Accept Responsibility

Give reasons, not excuses. An excuse is a weak justification for a fault.  You need to own the responsibility for the error and give a reason, even if it is just admitting that you were overworked or had difficulty finding research material.

"The dog ate my homework," is an excuse.  "My sister needed an emergency C-section, and I was the only one with a pocket knife," that’s a reason!

When you are sincere, and you accept responsibility for the fault, it shows maturity and honesty. Many employees and service providers may fear taking this step out of concern for reprisals. But really, unless you make a consistent habit of missing deadlines, there should be no reason for an extreme response. Plus if you have a deadbeat boss, it’s good to find out early.

A good employer will appreciate your honesty and will think about the situation, perhaps even take some steps to make your job easier in the future. You just need to focus on making sure that the quality you are providing justifies the faith that is placed in you.

 Identifying reasons:

  • Did the client make you late? Sometimes there can be issues like scope-creep, the client constantly bothering or interrupting you, the client requesting frivolous changes or the client failing to respond to communications in a timely manner. The tricky part here is that even if the client is 100% responsible for the error, you still have to accept responsibility. In a way, you are responsible if you tolerated all of these inappropriate client behaviors without saying something and without adjusting the deadline because of them.
  • Did you or somebody on your team suffer an illness? Illness can slow you down and make you less productive. Just be careful not to use illness as an excuse. You should frame your words in a way that show you still accept responsibility but that the illness was a contributing factor.
  • Were there other factors that introduced delays such as industrial action by third parties, natural disasters, or other calamities that reasonably delayed your efforts? Here again, you’re actually responsible because you did not adjust the deadline for the project. But few clients will want to seem unreasonable if these are genuine contributing factors to your missed deadline. Things that are completely beyond your control are not fair reasons to take an aggressive stance against you.

2. Take Pre-Emptive Action

The best time to start doing something about the situation is the very moment you realize that you won’t complete the project on time. Sometimes people wait because they are afraid of dealing with the consequences, but it is better to take action early. By admitting there is a problem early, the client or employer will adjust their expectations.

If you already handled step one of accepting responsibility and being prepared with a reason, then step two should not be painful.

The most important thing you can do is avoid missing the deadline by requesting an adjustment to the deadline as far in advance as possible. This way you avoid all the subsequent problems.

If the client is causing delays, you have to note them, contact the client and let them know about the delays they have introduced and suggest a new deadline. Otherwise, if you introduce these delays as factors after the deadline is missed, you risk making it look like you are making excuses and blaming the client, which is not good for your image.

The same applies to any other factors if you genuinely believe they are going to cause some delay, it’s better to document them early, pass the information along to the client, and try to extend the deadline by a reasonable amount of time.

3. Commit to Action

If you have several other projects that you are responsible for, then it won’t be easy to dedicate extra time to completing a late task.

What you have to be careful of is avoiding the temptation to procrastinate on the basis that "it’s late anyway". This attitude won’t do your career or reputation any good, and it can lead to procrastination becoming a habit.

You need to set aside dedicated time especially to work on the late project and do whatever it takes to get it finished, even if that means working in your own time, and all night if necessary. The only exception to this rule will be when it is a low-value project for a client you intensely dislike. Then why would you want to put other projects at risk for a bad employer?

4. Consider Outsourcing

This is an expensive option, and it can introduce further problems if it is not carefully managed. But it may help you avoid missing a deadline if you are really under pressure.

You will probably make a financial loss by doing this, but sometimes that is better than the loss of reputation you can suffer by disappointing the client. Just make sure that whoever you trust with the work is somebody that is competent and will not let you down. Hopefully somebody better at managing deadlines than yourself!

Make sure that by outsourcing you are not breaching any confidentiality clauses. Usually, it is not a problem because such clauses cover "agents, subcontractors or employees of the contractor" that includes outsourced employees. But it might still be a good idea to commit the subcontractor to a confidentiality agreement of your own.

Obviously the more sensitive the project is in terms of the information being dealt with; the less attractive and wise outsourcing becomes as an option. So if you work for the CIA, outsourcing is probably not a good idea. But if you work for Tesco then you probably only need to worry about confidentiality if the project involves negotiating a deal with a horse farm.

5. Mitigate the Damage

If this is a project where you have really let the customer down, an apology alone may not cut it. Offering them some kind of discount on the next project or even bribing them with some sort of gift can go some way towards mitigating the damage caused by the missed deadline.

See Also: 10 Time Management Techniques That Wil Help You Accomplish Your Daily Goals

Missed deadlines are always a disaster. If you are constantly missing deadlines, you need to look at what you are doing wrong. This is usually either due to taking on too much or trying too hard to please the client by quoting an unrealistic timeframe for completing the work.

Sometimes clients give unreasonable deadlines in the first place. When this is the case, don’t be afraid to point it out. Negotiate a reasonable timeframe to complete the task, because this is much better than disappointing the client.

Do you have any good tips or hacks for missed deadlines?