We’ve all been there. Despite best intentions and impeccable, down-to-the-minute planning, projects can get off-schedule (I mean, just ask anyone who has ever had their kitchen remodeled!). The project’s size snowballs in scope. A key employee resigns. A client changes their mind. The goalposts are moved. A new project jumps ahead in the priority line. Or worst of all? Your estimates were off.
Whatever the reason, at some point in your career, you’ll likely experience the gut-sinking realization that you’re not going to hit your goal. How you handle these situations says just as much about your personal brand as how you handle your successes.
So, what can you do if it looks like that deadline is about to fly right on by? Here are three steps you can take to salvage your project – and your reputation.
Sometimes a looming deadline requires a shifting of priorities in order to meet your goal. As soon as the deadline is looking out of reach, think about where else you are spending your time. Have other projects taken attention away from this one? Do you have a number of competing deadlines, each one eating into the next? Sit down with your supervisor, or your team, and discuss priorities. It might be that everything else needs to take a back seat so that everyone can focus on bringing this project across the finish line on time.
Depending on the importance, scope and profile of the project, you might need to make some internal adjustments. Working backward from the deadline, assess what still needs to be done, as well as the amount of working hours needed to get it done. From there, you can reassess the resources at your disposal, and request more if you need it. Projects can easily increase in size and budget, and there’s no shame in calling in supports.
Communication is critical to your reputation. You may not want to publicize the fact that your project is behind schedule, but the only thing worse than a missed deadline is a surprise missed deadline. As soon as it’s starting to look like the deadline is out of your grasp, alert your immediate supervisor. He or she can decide whether or not to alert the next person in the chain of command. If the buck stops with you, own it. Talk with the people who will be impacted. You may want to wait to see if you can correct the course and get the project back on schedule before sounding the alarm bells, but you’ll need to do a fairly quick assessment before things go too far off the rails. The last thing you want is to have a deadline come and go with nary a peep from you or your team.
With enough notice, the person waiting for you will be able to make adjustments on their end. This might mean alerting their own boss, or even rescheduling an event. Either way, it’s important to to give them the opportunity to adjust their own timelines and enact some damage control measures if necessary.
How you handle these misses and near-misses impact not only the projects themselves, but your professional reputation. It can mean the difference between being seen as a ball-dropper, or a responsive and responsible problem-solver. As with most things in life, flexibility, proactiveness, clear communication and decisive action will have a great impact on your success. And who knows? Maybe this near-miss will end up being one of your all-time great saves!
Rebecca Horan is a brand strategy consultant who helps create enduring and differentiated brands that make people care. She loves helping business owners to find their voice and forge a meaningful connection with their audience.
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