Professional engineering and project management require deadlines to be established a met. After all, our work focuses on delivering our expertise to others, for their use. Whether it’s a geotechnical report, a set of high-quality construction plans, or anything in between – the people paying for professional services expect something of value in return.
Engineers provide a keen level of expertise, working in various disciplines across the industry. There are a lot of different firms that offer similar services so engineers have to differentiate themselves from their competition. It might be based on geography and knowing the local codes, standards, and permitting process. It might be a specialty of experience you have that others simply don’t. This is commonly referred to as your value proposition. It is what makes your firm more attractive to potential customers.
Completing a client’s work efficiently and accurately is vital to the success of a project, but this is NOT your value proposition. Just because you can complete the work faster than everyone might be able to doesn’t necessarily make you stand out. Everyone wants their work completed in a timely manner, especially when the client is paying by the hour. There is a common expectation of clients that all work be completed in the most efficient and accurate way possible.
3 Reasons Friday Deadlines are Terrible Deadlines
All that said, deadlines are still a must. Completing work and moving work through the engineering process takes effort and attention to detail. But just because the work needs to be done – you don’t need to set your deadlines for Friday! Why I think Friday deadlines are a bad choice:
Miss it and you miss it “by a week”
The difference between delivering a package to a client or review agency on Friday at 4:15 p.m. versus dropping it off at 8:20 a.m. on Monday morning is very little, yet in the eyes of your client, it’s a week late! I expected this last week, but you are delaying me, the schedule just gets prolonged because you missed the deadline we agreed to. These are all responses I have heard over the years.
A rush to finish before the weekend
The weekend is a time meant to relax and recharge before the next workweek. Friday deadlines can create additional stress and pressure. One scenario leaves your staff sacrificing their weekend plans to make a deadline that is now overdue, impacting their whole weekend. Another is when your staff meets the deadline at whatever cost necessary, even if the quality of the work is what suffers! Combine this rush with the reality that as a week progresses, some staff experience fatigue and reduced productivity. By Friday, they are shifting their attention to the weekend and this has a double impact on the project considering missing the deadline might have been less impactful than producing poor work.
At the start of a week, you may think you have plenty of time but can quickly feel overwhelmed if you procrastinate on tasks early in the week. A Friday deadline on Monday seems so far away, yet all too often we realize we should have accelerated our efforts much sooner than we did.
The Ideal Deadline Day
At this point, we can probably agree that a Friday deadline is not desirable, but what day is the best day for a deadline? I have found Tuesday to be the best day to establish a deadline! Here’s why:
Bonus time built-in
Establishing a Tuesday deadline with a client automatically builds two (2) extra days – the weekend. Yes, we obviously don’t want to require staff to work on their weekend, but having these two days can be a great opportunity to put the finishing touches on a project without missing a deadline. Once you establish this with your staff, it is easy to plan early in the week when you know the possibility of working through the weekend is necessary.
If your staffing schedules allow, you can provide an immediate return on your staff’s investment, if you can allow them to shift their time and take off another day. For example, they sacrifice Sunday to work on a deadline, and in exchange, you give them the following Friday off, offering them a 3-day weekend in exchange for their weekend work. I know that will not work for everyone but it is something to consider.
Push comes to shove, a missed deadline is easier to explain
Face it, you will miss a deadline from time to time. The printer breaks or traffic delays a delivery past closing time. Even your best plans have the chance of missing a deadline. Missing a Tuesday deadline but delivering on Wednesday (while the same amount of “business hours” a Friday to Monday slip would be) physiologically has different implications. It is the same week and only a few hours late. In my experience, most of my clients rarely complained about missing a deadline by a few hours, especially if I emphasized that we wanted to complete the work at our highest level of quality and not rush it just to submit it.
Submitting early makes you look great
Setting yourself up to wrap up the project on Monday and Tuesday affords you the opportunity to complete the project early! Maybe you were concerned about completing the project on time so you put in the extra effort over the weekend. Now it’s Monday and you are ready to submit. Now you are ahead of the curve and your client will be pleased to know their work is getting finished early!
Internal Deadlines can be Thursdays – not Fridays!
Leading up to next week’s Tuesday deadline, I often set internal deadlines for Thursdays. This helps my staff manage their workload from early in the week, planning to complete their part on Wednesday or Thursday. This gives me two full business days plus the bonus weekend to put the finishing touches on the project. It also avoids the pitfalls of an employee rushing to finish work before they head out for the weekend. Internal Thursday deadlines also create an opportunity for staff to leverage Friday to plan for the upcoming week and get a jump start on tackling the next milestone.
At the end of the day, your project planning and workload balance is up to you and how you manage your team. For me, the Tuesday and Thursday, client and internal deadlines respectively, have paid off time and time again. Meeting deadlines is one of the easiest ways to keep your clients happy. When you miss a deadline time and time again, your clients will seem to miss their payment deadlines too.
Hopefully, this gives you something to think about. I would encourage you to try different deadline routines with your team in order to find a happy balance that motivates your team and meets the expectations of your clients.