Matt Sumner

Deadlines are a tool. There are good and bad deadlines. This post is going to outline how you could be using deadlines to superpower your project as well as some of the pitfalls that we see many organizations fall into.

The following is taken verbatim from the excellent post How Do You Decide When a Design is “Finished”?

Am I making good use of my time?

The awesome thing about deadlines is that it forces you to make better decisions faster because there simply isn’t enough time to thoroughly explore everything. If the project is on schedule however, then I’ll definitely take the time to massage the design in areas that are most important though this also serves as a reality check for when the time is nearing to move on.

Kim Goulbourne

And this is entirely true. Without setting some line in the sand we might never end up shipping a product. Deadlines are a wonderful tool for motivating the process of shipping.

Deadlines inherently enforce a time constraint which can lead to lowered standards. This in turn can lead to:

  • Technical debt due to rushed implementations.
  • Poor user experience due to restricted time to iterate on the design.
  • Less creative solutions as taking the “safe” route is more predictable.
  • Missed deadlines leading to mismatched expectations.
  • Team burn out.
  • Broken dreams.
  • Hurt feelings.

Set Deadlines with the Entire Team

When determining your deadline make sure you’ve got a diversity of viewpoints providing input. Setting a deadline with only input from your sales team is potentially going to result in broken promises and shattered dreams. Only talking to your development team may end up with deadlines that lack a greater understanding of your customers wants/needs and ignore other time related events such as conferences.

Deadlines refine the mind. They remove variables like exotic materials and processes that take too long. The closer the deadline, the more likely you’ll start thinking waaay outside the box.

Adam Savage

The worst thing you can do is arbitrarily choose a deadline with no input. When you do this you’ve shown a complete disregard for your team and set an expectation that no one else believes in. Your deadline might be entirely reasonable but for a healthy working relationship everyone needs to feel heard and valued.

There is a big difference in how one approaches a deadline set by oneself and one set by some external force. Make sure those that need to deliver on the deadline buy into it.

Always Remember: Deadlines are Flexible

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

Douglas Adams

During my professional career I’ve rarely encountered deadlines that couldn’t be moved. We set deadlines to avoid consequences, but often these are imagined and are never encountered. The consequences of rushing during the panic of an impending deadline are all too real and encountered all to often. Take a breath, re-assess and change the deadline.

Check in every retro with the status of a deadline. As the deadline approaches, your team will have more information and be able to give far more accurate predictions for if the deadline will be met or not. The earlier you know there is a real risk of not making a deadline, the earlier you can react by moving the date or reducing scope.

The Comet of Success

We’ve found that success occurs when there is some flexibility in both scope and timeline, although we’ve had more experience with fixed deadlines. Our projects will often have a fixed budget which equates to a fixed amount of time and we expect to deliver a product.

You should avoid having extremes in either capacity. Having inflexibility on both sides sets your team up for failure when they’re unable to react to changing conditions. Having complete flexibility on both sides means there is no pressure to produce anything.

I’m going to call this “sweet spot” the Comet of Success. Each axis represents how inflexible the scope and time are. (0, 0) is complete flexibility in scope and time and (1, 1) is a due date that cannot change and scope that is set in stone.

Celebrate Met Deadlines

When everything goes right, take a moment. Bask in your success. The positivity generated from the simple act of celebration brings teams together and grounds you towards a common goal. Success!

Some Additional Reading