How To (Subconsciously) Make Your Team Respect Deadlines


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Project management is all about deadlines. Besides the final one – whether a project is successfully completed or not – there are many other deadlines for smaller phases and tasks within the project.

We should bear in mind that project management implies cooperative work. It means that tasks, as well as deadlines, are connected to each other. Thus one delayed deadline will impact all other work. It’s like a domino effect, where negative consequences will lead to a project scope creep.

The problem for project managers is that deadlines are rarely properly met – be it at work or just in everyday life. By nature, people tend to not take far-off deadlines seriously, thinking that there is time ahead. As a rule, there is not as much time as we think.

What’s the psychological explanation?

As stated above, it’s part of human nature to avoid deadlines. This has been proved by psychologists.

Have you ever taken exams when you went through all the materials in an all-nighter? Think about how stressed you felt. The closer the day of an important event, a deadline or simply a task, the closer it comes, the more stressed and nervous you get. Psychologists have wasted no time in naming this effect – the «Goal Looms Larger Effect».

Here is how they describe it: the closer someone gets to success, the more intense their effort becomes. As you approach a task, goal, or deadline, it dominates your thoughts more and more. As a result, this focused attention brings benefits.

This is not the only psychological evaluation of deadlines. There are some procrastinators who say they work better under pressure. But this makes no sense because it is hard to do your best to complete a task with limited time. It follows that this category of people does not work without deadlines – but when deadlines are set, they try to extend them.

However, let’s not go too deep into psychological analysis, but focus instead on how we can make team members and colleagues respect deadlines.

Read More: What Is Project Quality Management?

1. Only set real deadlines

How often have you been in a situation when you had several deadlines for one and the same task? When you approach the first deadline, it becomes clear that it was not real. The false deadline was used by a boss or a project manager to manipulate his/her team. If this deadline is missed, the real deadlines will be met in a timely manner- or so they think. But in reality, this doesn’t happen.

How to make a subconscious impact on your team

Divide your tasks into smaller ones with fewer time periods. Create and assign tasks that are supposed to take a day or two. Team members will realize that there is a constant stream of duties, with visible deadlines that are not difficult to meet.

2. Engage your team in deadline setting

Stakeholders often don’t have the slightest idea about real processes in their projects. They do not know how everything works and is organized. Therefore, stakeholders are far from reality in setting real deadlines. They set dates when projects are to be completed, but the people who are really involved find these deadlines hard to meet.

Engage your team in the process of setting schedules. Let them decide what the real terms and deadlines are for each task.

How to make a subconscious impact on your team

If you include team members in the deadline setting process, you are a smart manager. Firstly, you create a great feeling of teamwork. The more someone is engaged in an activity, the more responsible he/she feels for their work.

Secondly, your colleagues will set deadlines that are based on a real understanding of what needs to be done and how much time is required.

Finally, if your colleagues set deadlines themselves, they have nothing to complain about. It is they who estimated everything!

3. Go into detail

An explanation is crucial. It is not enough to say when a deadline is. Instead, say when it is and why everyone has to meet it. This way, you will definitely evoke a response.

Be as precise as is required by the situation. Do not say something like this:

– All bugs should be fixed by 6 p.m. on Monday.

It is much better to provide some details.

– All bugs should be fixed by 6 p.m. on Monday. It is important because on Tuesday we will launch a new sprint based on all the fixed bugs.

How to make a subconscious impact on your team

Follow this model consistently. When you explain why it is important to complete a certain task by a certain date, you give your team a clear picture of it. Understanding is the key that helps them to take deadlines more seriously.

4. Underline the negative results of missed deadlines

Here, psychological motivations take the stage. Underline negative results and effects on the whole project and the team if deadlines are not met. In most cases, fear has more impact on people than a positive and pleasant response. It has much more power to motivate.

Let’s go back to the example described above. To underline negative results, we will add one more sentence.

– All bugs should be fixed by 6 p.m. on Monday. It is important because on Tuesday we will launch a new sprint based on all the fixed bugs. If we don’t launch it, our stakeholders will cut expenditure, directly influencing our salaries.

How to make a subconscious impact on your team

Be careful with this point, as too many threats can lead to decreased morale. Be sure you only underline real negative results – do not threaten your team unnecessarily.

5. Think over reminders

Do not be a parrot walking around and constantly going on about deadlines. On the other hand, don’t take the opposite position of only reminding people once.

Instead, try to invent or use an existing effective system of reminders. The most important point is that those reminders should work.

How to make a subconscious impact on your team

Here managers can use a clever strategy to make colleagues remember deadlines. Instead of repeating when a task or project should be finished, directly ask colleagues when the deadline for this or that task is. While they’re trying to help you, they will recall the deadline without significant problems.

6. Use effective software

Even the most experienced managers can’t always plan and manage projects and meet project deadlines in a timely manner. So delegate all your work to an effective and reliable tool. Of course, it can take some time to search through long lists of software and find the one that’s best for you. Nevertheless, it’s worth it.

The market offers plenty of different tools with different functionality, working principles, interface, etc. You can really get lost in them!

How to improve teamwork and meet project deadlines

The best advice is to choose tools that are already proven to be effective. Project management software based on a Gantt chart is exactly that. It enables you to create tasks, set start and end dates for them, and manage multiple priorities, projects, and deadlines.

Wrapping up

Meeting project deadlines is crucial. But it gets challenging when you have a lot of tasks assigned to different team members. Make sure you subtly impact your team to get positive results:

  • Set real deadlines.
  • Engage your team.
  • Explain details.
  • Underline negative results.
  • Think over reminders.
  • Use effective software.

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