Mastering Deadlines in Strategic Planning: A Guide

Discover key strategies for effectively setting and managing deadlines in your strategic planning process. Read our guide for practical tips.


  1. 6 Steps for Setting and Managing Deadlines Well
    1. Know what kind of a deadline you're setting
    2. Prioritise
    3. Set Interim Deadlines
    4. Reset deadlines before you miss them, not after
    5. Communicate your deadlines
    6. Keep a deadline log and learn from what worked and what didn't work
  2. Setting and Managing Deadlines in

DeadlinesHave you ever faced the pressure of a looming deadline with dread, wondering how to manage it effectively?

Deadlines are an important aspect of most strategic planning processes. They can be used well or poorly.

In this post, we look at how to set and manage deadlines well, and how can help you to do that.

6 Steps for Setting and Managing Deadlines Well

Know what kind of a deadline you're setting

Not all deadlines are created equal.

Hard deadlines are determined by some external factor outside of your control. For example, if a contract expires on a certain date, you may be required to take some action before that date to avoid penalties or a loss of capability. That date may have been set at the inception of the contract and may be difficult if not impossible to change.

Soft deadlines are more discretionary. Often they indicate nothing more than how long something is anticipated to take. This can be useful for planning purposes - for example, if Team B knows how long Team A expects to take, then they can plan to be ready to receive Team A's output.

Non-deadlines: Sometimes it's better not to set deadlines at all. Particularly in small, well-motivated teams with good communication, other techniques, like Kanban, may be more effective than planning deadlines. Don't set a deadline if it is acceptable to simply communicate what you need done, in what order you need it done, and that you simply need it done as soon as it can be.

Note: some leaders set soft deadlines and then act as if they are hard deadlines in an attempt to force their teams to deliver more and faster. However, their teams can usually see through this tactic. Often all it serves to do is create an adversarial relationship between those setting the deadlines and those expected to achieve them. Although this may achieve short-term benefits, in the long term it is almost certain to reduce overall performance.


Deadlines can be useful in prioritising work. For example, it might make sense to prioritise work in support of hard deadlines ahead of work in support of soft deadlines.

Equally, priorities can be useful in setting deadlines. For example, it might make sense to set and plan for all hard deadlines first, then work out how much capacity you've got left and set your soft deadlines accordingly.

This is particularly true where you have constrained resources leading to resource contention (which you invariable do).

Set Interim Deadlines

Whenever you have deadlines which take more than about two weeks to complete, it probably makes sense to set interim deadlines.

A simple way to do this is to break the work required to hit the deadline into sub-tasks or phases, and then set deadlines for each of those.

This also will help you determine if the deadline really is achievable.

If it isn't, then for hard deadlines you know you need to come up with a better plan or apply more resources. Whereas for soft deadlines it might also be appropriate to move the deadline.

Reset deadlines before you miss them, not after

Inevitably, sometimes circumstances will turn out differently from what you anticipated. Deadlines which had seemed achievable won't be.

It's always better to recognise this before you miss them - the earlier the better.

In the case of hard deadlines, the sooner you recognise the problem, the more likely it is that you will be able to come up with an acceptable plan B. For all deadlines, the sooner you adjust your plans and/or deadlines the sooner other people who are planning around those deadlines will be able to adjust their plans and deadlines. This reduces the overall disruptive effect of changing plans or deadlines.

Communicate your deadlines

There is little benefit to deadlines if you don't communicate them.

It is important to ensure that both the people responsible for achieving them, and those waiting for the outcomes are aware of what the deadline is and why.

Equally, if you have to change deadlines, the new deadline and the reasons for the changes must also be clearly communicated. Failure to communicate this properly will create an impression that deadlines are arbitrary, with little meaning or consequence. This will undermine the value of setting deadlines in the first place!

Having a centralised 'plan' which shows a single source of truth about what the deadlines are (and why), combined with a proactive process for sharing this information will help to achieve this.

Keep a deadline log and learn from what worked and what didn't work

You should record every deadline, every change to a deadline, and the reasons for setting or changing them.

You should then review and reflect on this on a regular basis. Is your deadline-setting process working well? How could you improve it?

Setting and Managing Deadlines in

  1. supports setting deadlines for Strategic Initiatives and Actions.
  2. logs deadlines set and all changes made to them.
  3. allows you to capture the reasons for setting or changing deadlines.
  4. provides a central source of truth for all deadlines.
  5. proactively communicates changes to all team members.

Why not give it a go right now if you haven't already?

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Published: 2024-01-14  |  Updated: 2024-01-14