I know we've all seen it: you and your team work tirelessly to meet deadlines and deliver to your client according to schedule, but you just can't ever seem to get things from your client when you need them.
There's no magic bullet or incentive that will force your clients to keep to a schedule they are not invested in, or don't have the time or resources to stick to.
If you find yourself dealing with this issue, ask yourself some questions:
What is your working environment like?
Are you on site with your client?
How do you communicate?
Do you engage your clients to help you create the schedules and timetables by which you expect them to abide?
Do you know why they aren't keeping up their end of the bargain?
The solution lies in building and maintaining a relationship, not in developing incentives to complete work by a certain deadline. To that end, there are a number of things that can help, but each client and culture is different, and what works for one client may not work for the next.
Some of the ways I help my clients to understand and engage in managing the project and meeting deadlines:
Involve the appropriate client stakeholders in the creation of project milestones and goals - they need to understand why milestones have been created the way they have and the dependencies.
Clearly define your expectations for the client in terms of time and effort - and have them review and confirm at the project start, as well as regularly throughout the project.
Develop an understanding of the culture of your client's business and their values and motivations. By understanding what motivates them, you will better understand how to help them reach their own project objectives.
Provide them with enough information on project changes or potential missed deadlines to help them make informed, knowledgeable decisions with enough time to act appropriately. If you know that your client has a large work product due to you in a week, and you think they may not have enough time to complete it before the deadline, be proactive in reaching out to assist them in its completion, or provide them an accurate picture of how it will impact the project scope and budget for each day it is delayed. Propose solutions to help mitigate those impacts.
Determine if there are obstacles to the client that you can help remove to facilitate progress.
Be proactive in communications, but do not be overly forceful.
Ultimately, the best approach is to sit down with your client and lay out the problem, and then work together to find a solution that will be amenable to you both. In other words, why not ask your client to help you solve the problem?