Deadlines are valuable, and deadlines are expensive.
Organized systems and society need deadlines. If subcontractors can deliver goods or services at their convenience, it is impossible to build houses efficiently. Film studios and book distributors plan the release time months in advance so that the distribution team can plan their work. The software depends on the subsystem, and the subsystem must be in place before the entire program can run.
In addition to the value created by products delivered simultaneously, there are actual costs. It is not only the organizational cost of missing deadlines, but also the significant damage to reputation or brand in the case of non-compliance. And there is a labor cost – striving to fulfill promises that we may not personally make can create stress and pressure, or make the job more difficult because other people do not perform their duties.
In the competition of widespread concern and commitment, the deadline standard has been shaken. For forty years, the live broadcast on Saturday Night has been conducted at 11:30. As its creator said, not because it is ready, but because it is already 11:30. That is a deal.
On Kickstarter, such sacred deadlines are indeed rare. “This charger will be shipped within six weeks!” They said that, in fact, it has been more than a year and there is no shipping date yet. Or with venture capitalists and other supporters. “We will beat the competition in three months.” Sometimes, if the company does not get what it wants, it won’t get funding. With this choice, it is no wonder people will despair. Wishful thinking may not be called lying, but it is not. We should understand better.
There is value in winning the reputation of people (freelancers, marketers, companies, leaders) who do not miss deadlines. And it doesn’t happen just because you avoid sleeping and work like a dog. That is a last resort for someone who is not good at planning.
Here are some basic principles that may help the planning part:
- If you are competing in an industry and the only way to “win” is to complete tasks on time, then realize that competing in that industry is an option and accept that you will miss the time limit and have to deal with emotionally high overheads. Coming.
- After knowing that this is a choice, please consider choosing a different industry, an industry that is expected to meet deadlines, and you can be satisfied that you can create value for others by keeping your promises.
- Don’t use the wrong deadline as an incentive. It works differently for everyone, which means that some people will abide by your requirements and deliver on time, while others think it’s just a guideline. It is more efficient to figure out and help people understand the meaning of deadlines from the beginning. The boy cried the wolf, but the villagers did not come.
- At the same time, do not use internal deadlines as a guarantee part of your external commitments. Projects without buffers will definitely be late. Not only may be late, but also certain. A better buffer can make the deadline better.
- Accept the fact that it costs more to deliver something on a certain date than when it is ready. Therefore, you should charge more (perhaps more) for the value created by your time-limited commitment. Then spend that money to make sure that the deadline is not missed.
- People “doing their best” does not prevent deadlines. Maintaining deadlines requires systematic handling of dependencies and buffers, as well as program planning. If you often cut corners or are busy completing tasks on time, you may encounter system problems.
- The antidote to prevent creep is not accidental pruning. It was a puzzling battle, but also a lost battle. The answer is to actively adjust the specifications, delete or add entire work blocks. The perfectly acceptable answer is “will be released in the next version”, especially when people rely on this version to be delivered on time.
- A single deadline is a deadline that will definitely not be met. However, if you can break the deadline down into ten or fifteen intermediate milestones, then you will know your progress very early, and now it is too late.
- The mythical character Moon is Serious trap. Nine people work in perfect harmony, and they don’t know how to give birth to a child in a month. Investing more people in the project usually does not speed up the project. When you start to resolve deadline issues in this way, it may be too late. Another method is to equip each component of the project with an appropriate number of people and have as many components run in parallel.
- The bottleneck is useful until it is useless. If you only need one person to approve every element of the project, then you cannot run as many things in parallel. Another method is to create a strict specification in advance, in which many standards have been approved even before work begins.
- Discussions about timing usually evolve into issues of trust, shame, and effort. This is hardly as useful as separating the dialogue about system structure and data from the dialogue about commitment and emotion.
- Hidden problems will not get better. In a highly connected world, there is no technical reason that the project manager cannot understand the on-site team’s understanding of the project status.
Like most important things, meeting deadlines is a skill, and since it is a skill, we can learn.
[More on this in my next post on what to do if you can’t avoid breaking your promise.]