AXELOS ProPath, the world's most powerful project, programme and portfolio best practice certifications

Why project managers need deadlines (and vice versa)

Adeline Teoh ed.
February 22, 2013

All my life I’ve worked in a deadline-driven role without realising that it has become my default way of operating. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t worship deadlines or treat meeting them as the only measure of success, but I do have a healthy respect for what they can do for me.

My partner and I have been planning a trip to Antarctica, and much of the organisation has been collaborative. A few times, however, we’ve added items to a ‘to do’ list without assigning them a deadline. The result, predictably, has been that these items simply don’t get done because they’re not seen as a priority.

Mostly this just means we get a bit panicky as the departure date draws near (will we be able to order thermal underwear online and have them arrive before we go?) but sometimes it has significantly affected our plans such as when the Brazilian Consulate decided overnight that it would take 20 working days instead of the advertised 10 working days to fulfil tourist visa applications. We still have our fingers crossed.

To exist, deadlines need project managers as well. Deadlines need project managers to recognise them, and to act accordingly. Whether or not you meet a deadline is not the point, it’s the striving that counts. Including deadlines as part of your process gives their, ahem, life meaning. Without acknowledgement, they become sad indictments of what should have happened. A task without a deadline is almost an abandoned task; a task not done is not a task at all.

Of course I’m aware that there are project managers out there who think of deadlines as a bit outdated. What do you think? What do you use instead?

Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
Read more