How do you implement Deadlines?


This is sort of a feature request, but I'm posting here to see what other people do in Smartsheet or maybe even other planning software to show a deadline.

It's a funny thing, as I've seen this better implemented in hodge-podge put together spreadsheets than I've seen it in actual planning software. In such spreadsheets, I've seen people show a deadline as either a graphical dashed line superimposed over top of the cells or other graphics (yuck!) used to make a Gantt chart. However, this one thing was easier to implement - you knew if certain items crossed that line when you moved them, you had a problem.

In any company we have "hard" deadlines - or at least deadlines that are really hard to change, or that we consider ourselves to be "losing money" as time passes after and we don't have a product out the door. These may be launch dates, gate review dates, etc. But highly important dates that generally require a committee to change and/or have severe consequences if not met.

In Smartsheet and other project planning software, here are the options as I've seen them used:

  1. Add the deadline as a milestone in one of two ways:
    1. Completely independent, no predecessors or parents.
    2. Dependent, not directly a child task to a parent, but tied to one or more parent tasks as predecessors to this one.
  2. Use the baselines feature

Each of these approaches have different advantages and disadvantages:

1a. Having an independent milestone means it won't move when you shift other dates. Therefore, if you know what events need to be done before that milestone and you see their dates pass that date, you know you have an issue. However, since the predecessors aren't clearly defined, you may not know that a particular task needs to be complete before that milestone and not realize you have a problem.

1b. Having a dependent milestone means that you will directly see the effects of sliding dates on that milestone. So, when you move out your other dates, you see their direct effect on the milestone. However, if you're not watching closely - you may not see that the milestone slipped. It will move it for you, and doesn't indicate that you've missed an actual deadline. You may not even realize there's a problem if you don't have full visibility.

2. Baselines is nice, as it gives you all your original dates to compare all of your events to and you can see if your dates are slipping. But there are also a lot of disadvantages. For one, it creates a "busy" or "messy" chart with lots of dates all over, making it harder to read. I likely don't care about every single task on the list if it slips by a day or two, I only care about the effect on the final date, or one of the gates/milestones. And it still doesn't clearly show you which one of these many, many tasks is the one you really have to look out for. You could lose it in all the chaos. And maybe, you set a date for your gate review that was, say a week early from the actual deadline - so it's OK if it slips by that week, just not any further. This doesn't show you that clearly, either.

So none of the options I'm aware of give you a clear view of when you're actually "in trouble" and may miss an important date. They all require you to remember or look up information elsewhere to compare to in order to see if you're in trouble.

I would propose a feature called "deadlines" or "gates". It could be stored as a list separate from your sheet and tied to specific tasks/milestones. The interface could be similar to the current "conditional formatting" dialog box.

Instead of "If <set condition> then apply this format to the entire row"

It would read something like "The deadline for <task name> is this date"

Clicking on <task name> would then bring up a list of rows with names from your Primary Column, then clicking on this date would bring up a calendar date. You can add as many deadlines as you wish, similar to adding as many conditional formatting rules as you wish.

Once that's set, when you look at the Gantt view, it will show a tag at the top (I'm imagining a price-tag like symbol with the point pointing downward, superimposed over the dates in the Gantt chart header, lined up with the end of the deadline / due date) and a heavy dashed line from the point down to the row that must meet that deadline, where it would stop. Then you get an easy, at-a-glance view when a change in dates makes that task/milestone (presumably a "gate review") run past your deadline, or if you're even nudging close to it when looking in Gantt view. I'm running out of time today, but if anyone's interested I could mock this up for better illustration and upload it here next week.

"Past its deadline" could also be a condition in conditional formatting for date columns (normally used on the "End Date" column, I would imagine), as well, so you can highlight rows that aren't meeting their deadline.

So, I have two questions for the community (if anyone is still reading at this point):

  1. What methods do you have to illustrate deadlines?
  2. Would you like to see a deadline feature like I described above?


  • MSK
    MSK ✭✭

    @BSADK This is a very well written request. Have you come across a solution yet? I'm running into the same issues as you are and not sure where to go with this.

    BSADK ✭✭✭

    @MSK No, I just decided to use Milestones. I did a little twist on them, though. For each "gate" I wanted, I created two identical milestones, and made one a predecessor to the other with a "Start After Start" dependency. I put the predecessor milestone at the very top of my sheet, and put the other at the very bottom. This created vertical lines in my timeline for each of these gates. Then I could gauge if something passed one of these vertical lines. Best work around I could find. BTW, all project planning software I've seen suffers this same kind of issue.

    FYI I don't use SmartSheets much anymore. I am no longer creating any new Smartsheets, only maintaining existing ones or ones other users in my company have made. I got tired of switching between my other programs and SmartSheets and had too much trouble copying data between them. I've basically switched back to traditional spreadsheets rather than using project planning software. There's some good ideas implemented in Smartsheets, but I just haven't seen enough of an advantage be worth the hassle of having sheets that are on a different server than all of our other files.