Deadline is a scary word. This is especially true for engineering teams with complex processes involving many individuals.
Many engineers and leaders alike fear deadlines because they don’t know how to use them to their advantage. However, when assigned within reason, deadlines can be an excellent tool to motivate teams to work hard and accomplish objectives.
Don’t view deadlines with dread! Let’s take a look at why deadlines are important for engineering teams and the 13 ways you can manage them to maximize team productivity.
Why are deadlines in engineering teams important?
Engineering teams can use deadlines to keep complex, multistage projects on track!
On one hand, despite the word’s negative connotation, deadlines bring value when it comes to planning and working towards a shared goal. On the other hand, violations of a deadline can lead to a loss of direction and urgency. A project can drag on forever without deadlines.
In engineering, deadlines are important for planning and coordinating work. Developing software is multifaceted and involves many moving parts and people. Deadlines allow individuals to work asynchronously towards common goals and speed up the overall delivery time of projects.
You and your colleagues can use deadlines to target a finish line and stay focused, aligned, and driven!
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13 ways to manage deadlines in engineering teams
- Create a realistic project timeline
- Set date ranges
- Delegate project responsibilities
- Create a feedback loop
- Schedule project check-in meetings
- Celebrate project milestones
- Assign project OKRs
- Foster effective collaboration
- Prioritize the project
- Prioritize quality assurance
- Plan for unforeseen setbacks
- Maintain open communication
- Host project retrospectives
1Create a realistic project timeline
The key to setting an achievable deadline is a project timeline that works for everyone. Start by ensuring the project is properly planned and scoped before completing any work. The timeline should outline the steps necessary to complete different project pieces and an overview of each task. Additionally, it should detail the involved steps and priority levels for specific pieces, and identify key goals. Mapping out a timeline in advance will help you reveal a clear path forward that sets you and your colleagues up for success!
2Set date ranges
Circling a date on a calendar and forcing your colleagues to drop everything to deliver a product on time will only create resentment. Setting date ranges instead of firm deadlines is one way to help your engineering colleagues stay motivated. A date range of a few days will give teams the time and space to lean on each other’s expertise and work through unforeseen blockers. If a deadline has no wiggle room, make sure the scope of the project itself is flexible instead.
3Delegate project responsibilities
Project managers can’t—and shouldn’t—do everything themselves. When you delegate manageable tasks, you empower your team to do great work, and you keep your own workload balanced. Play to your employees’ strengths and goals when delegating. For example, if an engineer on your team is interested in becoming a manager one day, assign them the task of completing code reviews for junior engineering staff throughout a project’s life cycle.
4Create a feedback loop
A feedback loop is a process that loops the outputs of a system back in as inputs. In the engineering world, this means using employee or customer feedback to improve your product or service. Create a feedback loop by asking for and giving feedback during every one-on-one meeting and team meeting and following up with action items that directly improve your team’s output.
With Fellow, you can incorporate opportunities for feedback into your team’s day-to-day experience. Say goodbye to unproductive meetings and hello to tracking feedback in real-time right in Fellow.
5Schedule project check-in meetings
Project check-ins give teams a chance to provide updates on current projects and challenges. Engineering teams can use project check-ins to give status updates, reassess the project scope, delegate new tasks, and uncover and ask for help on blockers. Use our project check-in meeting template to effectively provide updates and work through challenges during your next meeting.
Tip: To save time during the meeting, allocate 15 minutes following check-ins for attendees to help each other solve technical problems that have been discussed.
6Celebrate project milestones
Frequent celebrations will provide your team the momentum needed to push through to the end of projects, so relish in your team’s hard work when presented with the opportunity! Your teammates deserve to feel appreciated when they hit a deadline. When your team accomplishes a major milestone, plan a social event, allow them to expense a coffee on the company, or hop on a Zoom call while your product goes live! Moments like these will remind engineers why they put in long hours and hard work. Check out our blog post about the progress principle to explore other ways you and your team can celebrate wins!
7Assign project OKRs
OKRs stands for objectives and key results. The term refers to a performance management framework that is used by teams and individuals to set challenging, ambitious goals and then assign measurable tasks to complete them. For example, if your company has an online shop, an objective of yours could be to improve shopping cart conversions from 20% to 40% by 2024. If this is the goal, two key results may be launching the new version of your shop’s cart by Q3 and automating the deployment of your production system.
Next time you want to set some OKRs, track objectives as part of your meeting workflow using Fellow’s Objectives tool!
8Foster effective collaboration
Embody the style you want your team to adopt. Effective collaboration happens when you encourage your teammates to work together to achieve a common goal. Keep everyone in the loop by including all relevant teammates in project meetings. When individuals are aware of how everyone’s role works, they’ll be more willing to help!
9Prioritize the project
Projects that aren’t prioritized won’t turn out well. Letting a project linger in the background will only lead to incomplete work and missed deadlines. Software development should be prioritized based on the greatest need, taking the smallest steps possible. Determine which tasks are truly important and create a schedule that reflects this. Focus on one thing at a time and aim to tackle your most intense, high-effort tasks first.
10Prioritize quality assurance
Prevent time waste by making software testing a top priority. Find a good balance between your team’s development work and quality assurance (QA). On one hand, if your client wants you to deliver a final product in two weeks but your development work takes up most of that time, the final product may be of poor quality. On the other hand, if you deliver your final product with preventable bugs because you didn’t review the code after the development phase, your team’s reputation could be at risk. The bottom line is that engineering can be an unpredictable field, so make sure you factor QA into the planning process.
11Plan for unforeseen setbacks
Engineers are a talented bunch, but they’re humans too. Sometimes you’ll have to adjust delivery dates based on unforeseen setbacks like employees taking sick days, leaves of absence, or changes within the team. Plan ahead to give you and your team the greatest chance at success.
12Maintain open communication
When open communication is prioritized, everyone should feel comfortable sharing ideas and raising concerns. Beyond technical knowledge, engineering teams with strong communication skills can use this communication to motivate and mentor each other, learn skills, and position themselves for new opportunities. To create an environment of effective communication, lead by example! Set clear goals and expectations, encourage team members to ask clarifying questions, and repeat important messages in different formats.
13Host project retrospectives
Project retrospectives are a time for teams to carve out their day to reflect on past or current projects so everyone can move forward more efficiently. During sprint retrospectives, teams can reflect on what went well and what can be improved so they can manage complex projects in the future. The conversation should be positive and revolve around feedback questions about the work that are sent to attendees in advance. Document the discussion to catch everyone up to speed and assign clear next steps so everyone can move forward efficiently.
Use our project retrospective meeting agenda template to help your team reflect on the learnings, challenges, and outcomes of a complete project.
Deadlines shouldn’t be daunting. In fact, they are the key to project completion!
Assigning realistic delivery dates will help your engineering team prevent burnout and gain a sense of accomplishment with each task they complete. A roadmap that breaks big projects into smaller chunks will make sure each colleague stays on track.