Deadlines–Not Just for Procrastinators Anymore

Whether you’re on the client side or the partner (consultant, vendor, supplier) side of business, you know that you need a contract before any work is started in order to set expectations, scope of work, timelines and cost.  But what happens during the process of getting that work done?

Last week a business coach friend of mine had a twist on the work phase of projects.  She stated categorically that without an agreed-upon deadline, there is no agreement.  Commitment on both sides can only be achieved when a date for the next step is fixed on both calendars.

After thinking about this, I was sure that she was right.  Even though a contract or letter of agreement may have been signed, it can’t be executed without input from both sides.  A contractor can’t stay on schedule if information and approvals are somewhere on the client’s to-do list, but keep getting knocked off the daily list by more urgent matters.  On the other side, a contractor juggling other business won’t deliver if there isn’t a deadline.  The undecided client’s work can be pushed out further and further by clients who do have deadlines.

The interesting twist on contracts is that each deadline in the project  is a sub-contract.  Both parties agree to negotiate to the next step.  Getting the initial signed contract becomes only the umbrella under which the work progresses step by step.  Looking at a project in these terms, I understand how so many activities in my own business interactions have gone awry.  If both sides aren’t committing to mutual action each step of the way, then there’s no agreement on how to proceed to a common goal.  Action (by definition) implies an end point, which in turn necessitates a date for that end point– otherwise we’d call the activity contemplation.

In the past, I’ve always tried to issue reports that indicate next steps, who is responsible for each of those next steps and a deadline.  The missing piece for me was getting a sub-contract in either written or oral form, from the party on the other side of the table.  This promise should indicate that the person agreed with not only the steps, but mutually committed to a deadline.

From now on, instead of dreading the stress of deadlines, I’m going to try and use them as a check-in and feedback tool to see if each step of my project actions are valued as highly by my counterpart as they are by me.  What do you do when your partner nods then enters the vortex of non-commitment on your projects?

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