My Thoughts on Deadlines

For years I struggled over the concept of deadlines and wondered why it was so very difficult to meet them. And then I realized that in order to meet deadlines for software / web development projects, you really need the commitment of both the developer and the customer. You can always move the deadline, but if that’s what you want to do, at least call them milestones.

Most people suck at managing projects

Most people have more than one project going at a time, and when one deadline is moved it moves the other ones (whether you want to admit this or not).

The odds of a large project finishing on time are close to zero. — From Rapid Development (Amazon)

Today I learned that close to 25% of all airline trips are late

Wow, that’s stunning. It just goes to show that most people are optimistic and can’t even predict when a project will be done. There are countless tools that exist today to try to facilitate creating accurate estimates, but most of them are useless because we are all so busy, and a million things impact our days, thus impacting our schedules.

If missing deadlines wasn’t enough, there is a horrible failure rate in software development projects. Some people say 5 – 15% of all projects fail.

Say no, do less

Tips on the gentle art of saying no. I’m not going to comment further since I’m really bad at this.

Throw deadlines out

Stop thinking you can accurately predict the future. Give your customers a realistic expectation that you can have their project done during a window of time. You’ll quickly find that most people don’t need an exact “delivery date” for their projects. Instead they just want to know progress is being made.

I’m not suggesting that it’s good to be late on your projects, just that you accept the fact that it’s nearly impossible to meet deadlines the way you’ve been going after them, and you should change your procedure.

The deadline dance is not always productive.

2 responses to “My Thoughts on Deadlines”

  1. I often find that deadlines can actually be met, but that the problem rests in projects being far too software focussed rather than people focussed. Entire projects can end up centering around MS project, Gannt charts and scheduling software etc etc when its actually people that drive the project.

    You get much better results when you make sure each and every member of your project team is motivated, enthusiastic and communicating well, rather than just letting everyone go off and do their thing, under the general assumption that the scheduling software is driving everything – I see this happen all the time and it drives me nuts. Too many project managers rely on the software to be the backbone of the project, and fail to address team motivation because they feel they have all of the responsibility and none of the authority. Project Management here in the UK is supposed to ideally be process driven (Prince) or innovation driven (Agile), but we all too often get it wrong by not realising that both of these methodologies are people driven. I imagine it ight well be just as bad, or worse, in the States especially with the US fixation with 6 Sigma as a PM methodology. Six Sigma looks more like it has an unconrolled potential to be people-flogging driven to me – although I have to admit I’ve only ever looked at the theory of it and never seen it first hand.

    I must confess though, after this mini-rant, that I also usually add about a third on to the projected time for any project at the off, if I have the levity to do so, since this usually places a more realistic deadline in front of stakeholders at the earliest possible opportunity. So my projects are arguably late by design. Even when the guys on my project teams are in China and I know how fast and efficient they are, I still give myself breathing space. There I go deflating my own argument – hmmmf!

  2. As a quick addendum, I love what Douglas Adams had to say on deadlines:

    “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they pass me by”.

    Or something to that effect

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