How I’ve Never Missed a Deadline…EVER

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You’ve most likely felt the crushing weight of a looming deadline that you simply knew you weren’t going to be able to meet. Interestingly enough, these deadlines are normally self-inflicted.

Think about that for a second. Missing a deadline is suicide in the production business. Yet, one of the biggest mistakes I see people make is giving themselves a deadline they would never be able to meet!  That’s CRAZY!

Stop giving yourself unrealistic deadlines!

To rid yourself of unrealistic deadlines, you need two things:

  • The ability to clearly assess your current schedule
  • Honest communication

Let’s look at how to get a clear and realistic assessment of our schedule.

Estimate a Realistic Time Frame

The key word here is “realistic”.  To estimate a realistic time frame, you need to consider every factor at play which affects production. These factors differ from shop to shop.

We can use the acronym, TIME. This will help us better assess where we stand and what we might be able to add to our schedule.

Think – Inquire – Manipulate – Evaluate

Think – Take a moment to think about what is on your plate in front of the prospective job.  This small exercise will help avoid a great deal of pain and upset clientele.

Inquire – Ask your team if they’re on schedule, need more time on anything, expect any kind of delay (for any reason, e.g., an employee isn’t feeling well) and can handle the extra work. It should go without saying that you should be checking your documented schedule at this point as well.
*If you work alone, ask your client what their absolute drop dead date is.

Manipulate – If all looks good, you might be able to manipulate your current production schedule in order to fit in the new job. However, right now, we’re only looking at moving some pieces around.

Evaluate – Now it’s time to stop and evaluate the entire change. Can you successfully pull off adding this new job to your schedule?

After doing this, you’ll have a better idea on what your current schedule looks like. The next step is to give yourself more time. We do this by adding on a bit of rainy day insurance—a buffer.

Build in a Buffer

The one and only reason I have never missed a deadline is this—after evaluating my current situation and coming up with a realistic time frame, I then add on a realistic buffer.

For every job you do:

  1. Estimate your current schedule along with the amount of time it should realistically take (TIME).
  2. Do not forget to account for any factors that might impact your ability to deliver (e.g., your kid’s upcoming graduation, an employee is sick, etc.)
  3. Add a buffer time to account for “emergencies”, otherwise known as “real life”.

Your buffer could be any amount of time you feel is reasonable. For me, I estimate the amount of time I think a job will take, and then add on an extra day.

Even if I think I could finish the job without the buffer, I still add it on. This is the practice in discipline I spoke about earlier.

The buffer time will either be spent doing other things because you didn’t need it. Or it will be that life saving “final hour” bailout you needed in order to meet your deadline.

Either way, the important part is that your client gets their job on time, you aren’t stressed, and everyone is happy.

Case Studies

I’ve personally witnessed a (fairly large and well-established) shop shed off clients almost as fast as the bird that got hit by Randy Johnson’s fastball lost its feathers. All because its production manager constantly gave false deadlines.

These were deadlines aimed at pleasing her demanding clientele. They were also deadlines which she knew she couldn’t keep. Nothing more than empty words.

She did this thinking that it would keep her customers happy but failed to realize the long term effects of her actions. The result was a negatively affected bottom line for the shop.

Though she’s long since left that shop, her reputation hasn’t. For the customers she has slighted, they will always be known as the shop that never gets anything done on time.

At RSG, I’ve estimated realistic timelines and built in a buffer throughout its existence.

The result: happy clients whom return time and again.
Why?: there are too many people out there who are like the production manager mentioned above. And people enjoy the piece of mind they get knowing I always hit my deadlines.

I ran the art department at the previously mentioned shop and heard from a good number of upset customers. They all said the same thing, “It would have been much better if she simply told us she couldn’t do it by xxx day. Now, I’m screwed!”

I’ve seen both sides of this and it looks much better from my side of the fence.

Try it for Yourself

A job comes in and the client asks if you can have it ready by a time that you know you cannot honor. Try these steps in this order:

  1. Show empathy for their situation.
  2. State that you’d love to help them.
  3. State that you cannot physically help this time around.
  4. Offer the best you can do.

These steps can be accomplished with a few crafted but sincere statements.

“I’m sorry, John, I understand you’re in a spot and as much as I’d love to do these for you, we cannot physically deliver them by this Friday.”

That’s steps 1 through 3 in that sentence alone. Follow up immediately with an alternate realistic time.

“The earliest I can get them to you is by next Monday.”

Then Be Quiet

They will answer! Even if it seems like a lifetime, don’t say a word. In my experience, the answer is usually, “Okay, Monday it is then.”

If they absolutely have to get the job printed, they’ll say so. And your response should be something like, “I’m sorry, John. If I told you anything else, I’d be lying to you and I can’t do that. That only hurts us both.”

In the example above, it is important to say, “I’m sorry,” followed by their name. We’re all hard-wired to respond to these words in a favorable way.

There are always the customers who persist in asking if someone else’s job can be bumped. You’ll always have those who think a rush fee or your business relationship trumps the fact that you literally cannot meet their requested deadline.

It might be difficult to tell them you cannot print their job. However, the outcome of honest communication like this is—more often than not—a lasting business relationship that adds value to both parties involved. Yes, you’re going to lose a job or two. But, your customers will absolutely appreciate the refreshing shot of honesty you’ve given them.

Never Miss a Deadline Again

This honest communication about time/deadlines is also needed throughout the office. At no time should you, your artist, production manager, etc, not be on the same page about what is realistically possible to achieve in regards to deadlines.

As such, your team needs to be able to clearly assess their current schedule and communicate honestly.

Teach them these two valuable lessons along with the TIME acronym and your shop will be on its way to never missing another deadline again.

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