Deadlines are pretty simple creatures. You can either plan for them or not plan for them; meet them or not meet them; please your client or displease your client. And, for most situations, the power to plan, meet deadlines and please your client is all in your hands (no pressure!).
When a deadline is missed it can be very tempting to just shrug your shoulders and say "whoops (but it's not really my problem)". The way you react to a missed deadline can be a good indicator of how much you care about your client and their business. The more you care, the more you will grow to appreciate the potential consequences of missed deadlines.
Example: your QSR (quick service restaurant) client changes their menuboard pricing every time the national minimum wage is increased. The date for the increase is set in stone, and so every endeavor is made to have the menuboard panels changed by this date. Every day the pricing remains unchanged is a quantifiable monetary loss to your client.
Example: your client is exhibiting at a trade show. Your agency has been responsible for producing all the signage, brochures and interactive displays for their stand. The interactive displays are crucial for not only the look and feel of the stand, but they also act as "silent salesmen" for the company. Your agency team has been unable to get the display graphics finished in time, so you put static images in their place. Though unquantifiable, it is generally acknowledged that this will result in a loss of both immediate and future sales for your client.
Example: you've told your client that they will receive their deliverables by Friday. On Friday you ring your client and apologise, saying they will now receive their items on Monday. Your client has planned for Friday and they told their wider team delivery would be Friday. Your client is now forced to do "damage control" at their end, which places them in an embarrassing, difficult position.
Like the boy who cried "wolf" you may be forgiven after the first missed deadline, and maybe even the second, or third, but - eventually - your client will learn to distrust not only the timelines you give them, but other things you say. Learning to meet deadlines not only helps your client, but protects your own and your agency's reputation.
There will always be situations where other people (your client, agency team or suppliers) will be the primary cause of deadlines being missed. Regardless if someone lets you down, the ultimate responsibility for meeting those deadlines rests with you.
The best way to deal with missed deadlines is not to miss them in the first place. You can do this by creating a rock solid timeline before your project starts. The timeline should be realistic, achievable, closely monitored and - above all - adhered to.
The timeline should indicate key dates including:
By diligently keeping tabs on your timeline you will quickly see when dates are getting squeezed and if there is any chance that important milestones or deadlines are going to be missed. This will, hopefully, give you enough time to deal with any issues and get things back on track. If rescuing the timeline won't be possible, then at least you will be able to give your client a heads-up on the situation. Communication is vital!
There will always be times when your deadline gets missed and you'll have some explaining to do.
The first thing to do is to wipe away all thoughts about making excuses or shifting blame. The second thing to do is take personal responsibility for the situation. Why? Because it is the honourable approach and is the magic key to help mitigate any potential fallout from the situation.
Your client will also want to know the reason why the deadline was missed, what you are going to do about it now, and what you are going to do to ensure this will never happen again. To that end you'll need to have all the correct information to hand and be prepared to answer some hard questions.
To have any chance of turning the situation around, you'll need to show your client humility, honesty, empathy and intelligence. Though your client may not be "happy", you may yet earn some respect for handling a difficult situation well.
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