BLUF: How do you enforce deadlines as a project manager, when you have no role power, no (recognised) expertise power, and potentially little-to-no relationship power?

This is actually a question more for one of my directs, who is designated the role of project manager for all the little projects that need to get done.  He does a fantastic job of keeping track of everything that needs to be done, communicating with everyone (internal and external), and in general is a top performer in every possible way.

Except... now, we're trying to improve our ability to deliver on time.  As an organisation, we're good at delivering high quality, but timeliness has never been a priority.  We're trying to change that, and while it's one thing for me to use my role power and relationship power to gradually get people to deliver their work on time, we're having trouble devising strategies for my direct to do the same, without reducing him to a tattle-tale (telling myself, or the managers of the other people in the organisation who work on his projects, that so-and-so didn't deliver on time and having the person's manager deliver consequences, which I just don't see ending well).

So, that's the story.  I'd really appreciate ideas from experienced project managers about how they keep people accountable for delivering to deadlines on the projects they manage, without having any role power themselves.  If I've failed to find a useful podcast, please just point me in the right direction and I'll get it straight from the Horstman's mouth.  (grin)

STEVENM's picture

I figure there are two options there.  The first and obvious is for him to work on his relationship based influence.  If he doesn't have it now and he's seeing how it hurts it's time to build it up.  In the meantime it'll be tough, but better to start now.  Also, start having him get verbal commitments ahead of time on getting things done.

The second is transfer some of yours.  Call meetings with the involved parties on new projects and basically say "On this, he's the boss."

GlennR's picture

I agree with StevenM above. If your direct has no authority, there can be no enforcement. There can, however, be motivation, tied to business, cultural and team goals. That's the "influence" he's talking about.

This means your direct needs to build relationships with each team member that will enable him to determine how best to motivate each.

Dale Carnegie Human Relations principles that might apply here (in no particular order) are:

  1. Throw down a challenge.
  2. Let the other person think the idea is his or hers.
  3. Appeal to the nobler motives
  4. Talk in terms of the other person's interests.
flexiblefine's picture

Mark and Mike have excellent podcasts about project management which might be good reminders for things your direct should do.

Aside from that, I would make sure each project has a clear sponsor at an appropriately high level in the organization. Reminding slow people that they're dragging the project behind schedule and "the VP wants this by January 1" might get them moving.

GlennR and StevenM are right, too -- your direct can start building relationship power right away, and that will pay off down the road when crunch time comes.

Houston, Texas, USA
DiSC: 1476

edzaun's picture

The situation you describe for your direct is my job. Although my projects are not always small, compliance with milestones and other deliverables is not part of the core responsibilities of the people on the teams I lead. I work in a matrix organization and there is simply no way I can enforce compliance. Glenn said it best, where there is no role authority there can be no enforcement. There is simply no mechanism for that.

This does not mean you have no options. I am a nearly off the chart High D. I am also Low I, Low C with the S score of an armadillo. Based on my DISC profile, I should be locked in a room and kept away from decent, civilized people. The only reason my S score is one is because there is no zero. I had to learn how to do my job well and and my natural personality did not permit me to work and play well with others. There are several tips from MT that have helped. I'll summarize what I have learned and how I went from less than 50% on-time delieverables to over 90%.

1- Realtionships matter most. I had to learn to bite my tongue and be reasonable with the needs of others. That was the hardest step for a High D since I tend to be goal oriented and impatient with excuses. Even if your direct is not a High D, simply taking the time to understand the issue with why the devilerable was not met helps to develop the relationship.

2- The next part, and one that helps with relationships, is diligent use of the peer to peer feedback model. Simply understanding the impact of being late on my job prompted most people to be on time with deliverables. Team members simply never saw what I did with many of their outputs, so they had no idea of how what they were doing fit into the big picture. People seem to believe many things are busy work or unnecessary if they do not understand the why of what they are being asked to do. The peer to peer feedback model is perfectly suited to provide the information they need while building a relationship.

3- Make a review of the Go-Do list the first agenda item at every meeting and give it sufficient time! Cover every item that has been statused since the last meeting, not just the ones that are coming due or are over due. Publically thank people in the meeting for getting their deliverable to you and if possible, tie it in with what you will now do with that information. Public recognition of even small accomplishments, especially if they are part of the base expections of a position, encourages compliance. My inner High D sneers at thanking people for doing what they are being paid well to do, but if it is stupid and it works, it is not stupid.

3A- Likewise, do not shy away from calling on people who you know have not completed their task before the meeting when it is due. A little pain helps motivate and most people do not want to be the one at the meeting to say they are not done. This step must be waived if the person comes to you before the meeting to tell you they are not done with their deliverable unless youn make it clear you will be doing so. The late person is pre-qiring you before the meeting and you need to respect their effort. A pre-wire gives you the opportunity for peer to peer feedback.

4- Never status a deliverable that is not in your hands. It does not matter how emphatically the person tells you it is done, they just haven't emailed it to you yet. If it is not on your hands, it is not done even if the late person has a perect track record before this. This is taken from the project management drumbeat casts. If a job is done but not reported as done, the organization does not know it is done and cannot take the next step. Once you status a deliverable as being done, it falls off your radar screen and you can lose track of it. If you do not get the deliverable soon, you can have a mess to clean up. Until you have the deliverable, the task is not reported as done.

5- Communicate deliverables well in advance of the due date and keep communicating them at every update meeting until the deliverable in met. Communicate the delieverables via email as well, including the manager of every team member how has some Go-Do on the report no matter whether it is overdue or coming due next month. Simply including their boss's name in the CC bar of an email motivates some people to get things done. You also cannot reasonably expect people to remember things from last week when they have other responsibilities. It is not possible to overcommunicate Go-Do's.

6- Maintain accurate records of Go-Do's and status them RIGHT NOW. This means not overwriting an evergreen list. Make the file name something like: "Project X Go-Do List Go-Do List as of 29-Oct-2012". You can keep an evergreen list if you use the Save As function to create a new file each time you make changes.

7- Kick problems upwards. If you follow a system to give everyone every possible chance to meet deadlines and deliverables, everyone will know it and have less sympathy for non-hackers. Sometimes your boss can use her relationship with her peers and convince the immediate supervisor of the person who is late to get things done. You have no power over a matrix team member, but the manager of that team member does. Try puching the ball upwards and let your boss handle it.  You have to be careful using this option. If you push too much upwards, your boss will be doing your job and not need you to do it. Stick to the system and make this one your last resort.


There it is; six simple steps to get drop dead dates honored most of the time. You will likely never acheive 100% compliance in all things on a matrix team. The system is simply not set up to do that and there are many things you can do. These steps work. I have learned this through making mistakes but as they say, Good Judgement comes from the kind of experience you get from exercising Bad Judgement.


I hope this helps. I have obviously been listening to too many podcasts. I am begining to write like one.


Ed Zaun

DISC Profile 7-3-1-2