The truth about deadlines

You can tell how serious a client is about a website project when they have a deadline.

I once designed an entire pitch presentation and website mock-up in four days for an online vitamin startup seed funding round. They were serious about getting this initial funding and apparently money wasn’t yet an issue.

They also caught me between the end of one project and a planned vacation. I thought, “How bad can this be?”. Four days and less than 8 hours of total sleep later, their project was done and everyone was happy. Needless to say, my entire beach vacation and then some was paid for by that one project.

I have often thought back to that experience as a case study on why it was so successful: clearly defined objectives, good communication, attainable deliverables, and a real deadline.

It’s the deadline I want to draw your attention to.

They had a genuine deadline: no presentation delivered—no funding for their project. The deadline could not be moved, and they were 100 percent committed to seeing the presentation come together.

Do you know what kills website projects?

Not money. It is client commitment.

I have had some clients draw out website redesign projects for two or more years and spend thousands more than they needed because neither they nor their organization were fully ready and committed to the project.

How do I know?

Besides all the delays providing website content and feedback, they had no real deadline. I’m not talking about a “nice to have by” or “would like it by” or “sometime next” time frame, I am talking about a set date where it starts to impact your business if you don’t get it done.

I get very concerned by clients who don’t provide real deadlines–and even more concerned when they start stretching out those deadlines.

Did you know the term “deadline” was first used by prisoners in the American Civil War in the early 1860’s to describe the line which they would be shot by their captors if crossed:

Twenty feet inside and parallel to the fence is a light railing, forming the “dead line,” beyond which the projection of a foot or finger is sure to bring the deadly bullet of the sentinel.

—The Sanitary Commission Bulletin, 1 Sept. 1864

I am not suggesting that you draw a line around your website designer or your in-house team. I am suggesting that if you as the decision maker can’t formulate a real deadline, then you should seriously reconsider your commitment to the project. The success of your website project starts with you.

This is a secret strategy for website design and development: set real deadlines for yourself, your team and your designer and then hold everyone’s feet to the fire if they pass including your own.

Give yourself real consequences (experienced designers will have monetary consequences for missed deadlines written into your contract). If you are not ready to do that, you are not ready to commit to the project.

And if you are stuck in a delayed project, set a hard deadline with consequences to get yourself and your team back on track.

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