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What is a Deadline?

Smartpedia: A deadline indicates a point in time that may not be exceeded and by which an activity, service or delivery must be performed at the latest.

Deadline – a point in time with a linked condition

There are numerous meanings for the term deadline. It indicates

  • a participation or grace period,
  • a completion or due date,
  • a submission or cut-off date,
  • an ad close or closing date,
  • a final delivery date.¹

Generally speaking, a deadline is a defined point in time by which an activity, service or delivery must be completed. It is

  • a point in time to which a condition is attached,
  • a closing window of time in which tasks must be completed,
  • the end of a period of time for the performance of certain actions.

Originally, the term was used in journalism to refer to the last possible moment when lines of print had to be at the printers in order to produce the newspaper for the next day. If this time was missed, it meant death, and thus a day without a daily newspaper and no chance of sales. Today, the term is established in numerous areas such as project management, product development, marketing, sales or accounting and in many production or service areas, and has also become Germanised accordingly.

The sense of a deadline

Deadlines have a purpose. For example, they help to fix expectations in terms of content and deadlines. They help to work together towards an agreed goal. They ensure that actions are not forgotten and activities are completed. Even if they are often challenging and not always easy to achieve, they offer orientation and create commitment. Commitment within an organisation and between companies.

The consequences of missing a deadline

The consequences of missing a deadline can be manifold:

  • There is the threat of delays in production or deliveries as well as additional work. If an agreed deadline is missed, this leads almost automatically to shifts in the schedule and possibly to resource bottlenecks. At the same time, the effort required to adjust the plan, coordinate the parties involved and possibly search for alternatives increases. If such scenarios recur within the company, control mechanisms with corresponding reports are often set up, governing bodies defined and regular jour fixes agreed upon.
  • Indirect and direct financial consequences are imminent. If advertising campaigns are not completed before so-called “compelling events” such as Easter or Christmas, before sporting events such as the American Superbowl, the Olympic Games or the Football World Cup, there is a risk of revenue and turnover losses. Events cannot be postponed and corresponding opportunities are often not available again for another year and in some cases not until 4 years later. For one-off events such as a manned Mars mission or the wrapping of the German Reichstag, there is exactly one chance. Missing appropriately agreed deadlines can therefore be extremely bitter. Incidentally, the same applies to missing deadlines for participation, which then lead to exclusion from bidding competitions, for example, or to due dates that trigger contractual penalties.
  • Loss of confidence and image is imminent. If promises between contractual partners are not kept, trust in the cooperation of the parties involved suffers. If word gets out in an industry, the image suffers. If this happen again, the end of the cooperation is often unavoidable.

Tips for dealing with deadlines

A deadline is not just any date on a timeline. It is a commitment that requires special attention. Fortunately, there are numerous tools that can be useful in dealing with it. Here is a small selection:

  • The work breakdown structure helps to structure project work hierarchically by dividing a project into subprojects, subtasks and work packages to which staff, effort, deliverables, costs and dates are assigned. Ideally, the structure helps to identify scheduling and logical relationships so that agreed deadlines can be met. The visualisation could be done using a Gantt chart, for example.
  • A precedence diagram shows activities, their duration and chronological order as well as logical dependencies graphically or in tabular form. Here, the backward planning is particularly useful, in which the latest possible start and end times of activities are calculated – also based on an agreed deadline.
  • Working with stages of completion as a progress indicator, which determines the percentage ratio of the work done to the planned total work for work packages or projects.
  • The use of checklists as a questionnaire with a collection of questions on a defined topic or with criteria to be ticked off.
  • The change control board is a group within an organisation that reviews, approves or rejects change requests for their impact. Although changes are commonplace in many organisations (e.g. because customers change their minds), any impact should be carefully considered, assessed and communicated. An impact map, for example, could help with this.

Of course, it can also make sense to plan for appropriate buffers and to actively use existing good practices or lessons learned. However, if a deadline is missed, it makes sense to stay calm and limit the potential damage. Clear and honest communication with affected parties can also build trust in such a situation. Ideally, a new, realistic deadline is agreed upon and together – in the form of a review – lessons are learned from the situation and the best is made of it.

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Notes (partly in German):

[1] Übersetzungen zu Deadline

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