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I’ve had a recurring problem with people I work with leaving things until the last minute, then when there are problems, having no time to address them. Deadlines for “drafts” or similar sometimes work but are often disregarded because they’re “not that important”. I don’t really want to resort to complaining to higher management because that just makes things worse for the other person rather than fixing the problem.

Edit: I've had a number of questions asking about my relationship with the others, and this happens in several situations:

  • Actual subordinates - but this is relatively rare as a problem.
  • Same level coworkers, usually where we are in a team formed by request from higher up.
  • The most awkward situation - when we're in a team reporting to the big boss, which I'm supposed to be looking after, but one of the people on that team is my direct boss.
  • What "problems" are you encountering after they deliver? Is it issues with their code or integration issues or ??? Maybe the problem isn't with them, it's with moving requirements, etc.? – JeffC May 9 at 21:20
  • “Deadlines for “drafts” or similar sometimes work but are often disregarded” — hey, I spotted your problem. – Paul D. Waite May 9 at 22:21
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    I always feel obligated to warn people of posting about workplace issues when their username may be their actual name. If you are on SE, a colleague may be as well. – Dpeif May 10 at 0:19
  • You might get some answers on pm.stackexchange.com – Dave Gremlin May 11 at 12:30
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I’ve had a recurring problem with people I work with leaving things until the last minute

and

Deadlines for “drafts” or similar sometimes work but are often disregarded because they’re “not that important”.

This is a problem which has been going on for a while. From the OP it sounds like you've tried to address it by making the deadline earlier, which hasn't worked.

I don’t really want to resort to complaining to higher management

Good call. If they are your subordinates you're supposed to manage their deliverables, not your boss.

Have you tried any of the ideas below

Ask your Team for Guidance

It sounds like you've complained one on one to team members. Get your team together and explain how missing deadlines affects the team. For example,

Everyone had to work Saturday because X wasn't finished on time.

Then ask your team why it wasn't, and what needs to change to ensure it doesn't happen again. Don't blame individuals. Listen to what your people have to say. This should be a team effort.

Task Tracking Software

If you're currently not tracking all task and deliverables in a system with a defined workflow, start doing that. This will both ensure everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing, and gives you an easy way to see the status of each task. It may also show that one person has too many priority items on their plate.

Daily Stand-up Meetings

Have a meeting every morning once everyone has arrived. Each person should have 30 seconds to answer the following questions

1) What did you do yesterday

2) What are you going to do today

3) Is anything blocking you

If an issue will take longer than 30 seconds, then say "Who do you need to help you?" and ensure they talk post meeting.

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    @Abigail - The OP should replace that with the actual consequences of not finishing on time. I've had to work the weekend because someone else didn't get their work done on time so I used that example. – sevensevens May 9 at 17:25
  • Furthermore, some people don't mind working the weekends, if, for example they are paid hourly.... Or just have something a home life that they'd rather avoid for whatever reason. – Ted Delezene May 9 at 21:13
  • From my reading of the question, it's not that deadlines aren't being met... it's that they meet the deadline given the current requirements exactly on time. The problem comes when the work delivered needs adjustments for whatever reason and there's no time left to do that (because we're already at the deadline). – JeffC May 9 at 21:17
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    @JeffC - The OP explicitly said it was not working -> Deadlines for “drafts” or similar sometimes work but are often disregarded because they’re “not that important”. – sevensevens May 10 at 2:26
  • @sevensevens Then they need to be made "important". Perhaps a couple of cases of "Okay, the final deadline is <Date>, but we need the first draft on <earlier date> to present to <Boss>". And then you make each colleague present their own work - if they have not hit the draft deadline, then they get to explain why. Especially if this turns into an random ad-hoc thing across the wider company: sometimes the boss just turns up without warning the day after draft-deadline to check progress, sometimes they don't. – Chronocidal May 10 at 8:20
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I once worked with a guy who would give me (and others) things to read/proofread/edit/etc. At first, I would do the chore immediately to get it off my desk. But the instant I or anyone else made a correction to the document, then we all got a revised copy of the document. It was impossible to get the chore off one's desk for more than an hour.

So we all learned to put the thing aside for a month or so, then do one edit. If it came back, we waited another month before we returned it. It cut the number of times we had to read through the same stupid document by a factor of 30.

So perhaps you're like this guy. If you have a recurring problem with last minute revisions, then perhaps your workers are dragging their feet on purpose, in order to reduce the number of iterations. In general, workers will do this. Their reward for doing something promptly is to be given more work.

My advice is that first you do some soul-searching. Are your workers deliberately handing things back at quitting time because they want to avoid the boomerang? If so, try not to be the boomerang and then set a reasonable number of intermediate deadlines.

  • The problem you describe is that you were allocated work by someone other than your boss, so it had no priority and could be ignored. You'd have been better to go to your boss and ask him to manage the problem. He could have told the guy to stop bothering you, or set a limit on the amount of time you spend reviewing, or billed the other department each time. He'd have fixed the problem rather than introducing a massive delay. – Robin Bennett May 10 at 8:45
  • @RobinBennett Not quite. This was academia. The guy was senior to me. Not exactly my boss but put in charge of this or that project. He could make the tiniest little chore into a year-long project that featured prominently on his annual Activity Report. – B. Goddard May 10 at 11:26
  • I was wondering the same thing - maybe the workers consider these "iterations" pointless (or at least not worth the effort) and submit late on purpose to avoid them. Maybe something for OP to ponder on. – xLeitix May 10 at 12:09
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Deadlines for “drafts” or similar sometimes work but are often disregarded because they’re “not that important”

There is no point having deadlines, the if they are not adhered to. It really does not matter what the deadline is for - if it's a deadline, it needs to be adhered to.

There can be couple of scenarios why is this happening:

  1. Once assigned a task and accepted an agreed-upon deadline, the assignees are judging the merit of the task and changing the completion time at-will.
  2. The estimation for the tasks are poor and the team is struggling to meet the deadlines
  3. The team / employees are not up to the mark.

As you have explained, it seems like it's been going on for a while - try talking to the team - either one on one or in a group meeting and explain how missing the deadlines affect the overall deliverable and quality. Also, listen to what they have to offer as a reason for missing the deadlines.

  • If it's point (1)

    • If you're the one supposed to enforce the work policies (and ethics) (i.e., in a managerial position), do it.

    • Otherwise, bring this problem to the notice of your superiors.

  • If it's point (2): Time to revise the work planning and estimation process.

  • If it's point (3): Performance issue.
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    The thing is people DO judge the merit of deadlines. An arbitrary deadline imposed without input from the people doing the work and without any rationale beyond "what the boss/PM wants", will not be taken seriously by most knowledge-worker professionals. Life will be easier if the OP can instead gain the cooperation of his directs. – teego1967 May 10 at 11:18
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Examine the cause for why they are postponing the tasks.

Oftentimes, changing goalposts and specifications end up with work needing to be done twice if it is started to early. The suggestion of "revisions" also suggests that possibility.

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    Very important point. An organization where you do it once if you do it last-minute and 5 times if you do it well in advance quickly learns to do everything last-minute. – xLeitix May 10 at 12:09
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I think @sevensevens' are great suggestions, I would like to add that you need to change your process slightly. Your problem is that apparently the nature of the work of your team needs some kind of revision, but for some reason that is not part of the work that has to be done, so there is a false sense that it is done before being reviewed.

Basically, you need to change your definition of done. I would probably discuss it with the team as everyone had suggested and see how to better fit this revisions as part of the workflow. This makes the revisions part of the work they have to do and not something "optional".

For example if you are writing documents, or creating whatever kind of element that could benefit from someone else's reviews, you could add a step to the end of the process where someone else has to "review it", be it, read the document, or if it some kind of presentation see it. Then has to input their opinion, things to correct, things they liked, whatever you and your team dim appropiate, and then you leave another day after that too implement those "changes".

In order for this to work, these reviews need to have some kind of paper trail, like if you had the tracking software suggested would be great, but with a simple email, copying you, listing the findings would be alright too. This will force a natural "earlier" deadline because now the work has to be reviewed by someone else. And cause peer pressure, because people won't want to mess with their coworkers' deadlines either.

However if this is some kind of creative effort, it feels odd that you would wait till the end to make these reviews. It also feels odd that they are not part of the process. It would be better to integrate several checkpoints to the process to review key things. Like close to the begining you could check what approach is going to be taken, later on how it is going and what is needed. Daily meetings, like someone else suggested, are great to help people with every day issues for example.

An important thing with these changes to the workflow though, is not to make it endless, there has to be a point where it ends. Set specific checkpoints and actions to be taken and go through with it. Even if not every tiny issue is addressed, you will be better off than right now where you have no time to fix even major issues.

Also later on if there were things in the document or whatever is that your team is producing that were not addressed, you can hold a meeting with the 2 people involved and discuss why no one noticed those issues.

Finally, is it worth it? I mean, it seems this has been happening for a while, maybe it is not so important that those reviews are not implemented? If it is important, discuss it with your team and tell them the immediate and long term consequences of what happened. For example the team has a poor image in the organization because they always deliver late or unpolished work; wich could have a bad impact in their careers and opportunities for advancement.

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If you are in charge of assigning the projects and setting the deadlines then include revisions in the scope of the project. This ensures that if the revisions are not completed then the deadline for the project has not been met and disciplinary action can be taken. Of course, this only applies to cases where the employees in question are your subordinates and you assigned them the project. This also assumes that you are allotting a reasonable amount of time for you project ( including revisions ) to be completed.

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  • The most awkward situation - when we're in a team reporting to the big boss, which I'm supposed to be looking after, but one of the people on that team is my direct boss.

Start there.

Your direct boss is the person best placed to help you out and, by the sounds of it, they have direct exposure to something important that you lead.

If deadlines are a big problem and you feel that this is detracting from the work of the team as a whole then you should discuss it with your boss. Raise the issue, politely, and ask how they feel about . You want to get them on board with your idea so keep your options open and if possible try to get them to suggest a way forwards (most will be naturally inclined towards liking their own idea).

If they get on board then:

a) this gives you a vehicle to improve colleague performance

b) your manager might improve their own performance

Of course they might dismiss the idea that deadlines are problematic. This gives you an answer really fast: you are stuck with the problem.

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If you are not a manager, then you should raise the issue at least on generic terms to management. They should start looking closer to the situation without you having to point fingers around.

If you are a manager, try creating clear lines of responsibility. This means making clear who is responsible for what, and makes it easier to track with employee' performances. Make sure that tasks are not concluded just because the responsible person said so, and don't rely on reviewers to point out other people's poor deliveries.

If possible, hire someone new, so that at least for a while you should know that the workload can be dealt within the available time by the team.

Either way: Start assigning more tasks to people who meet deadlines, maybe even request that they work extra hours (make sure are paid to do so, do prefer the extra money instead on the usual work hour, and are aware they're being paid for it).

Make clear to people not meeting deadlines that they're not allowed to work extra hours. Assign less tasks to them, and with time they'll start meeting their deadlines. If someone is still not meeting deadlines, then further reduce their workload. Anyone with common sense would know this is a foreshadowing to being fired, and should make an effort to make up for it.

Don't think of this as "getting rid of rotten apples", this is not the point. At first this is just adjusting workload to everyone's capacity. Just try to give some reward to who is getting overloaded in the process, and people should go for this reward as well. If most people seem interested in having more free time at the office, then you should consider replacing someone.

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  • Hire a project manager per ~10 people in a project.
  • His main job is to map "customer deadlines" to internal deadlines
  • Also have some "Product owner"-like function which actually defines the acceptance criteria of the internal work.

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