Careful with That Deadline

Next time you attach a deadline to some work, check your assumptions.

They might include:

  • Something important will happen as a result of delivering on that date
  • The requirements are correct and will stay that way
  • The delivered results will fit the requirements
  • The full set must be delivered
  • The work is doable within the timeframe (even with interruptions and other planned work)
  • The team needs a deadline in order to take the work seriously

The risk: you may not think that the deadline matters above all else, but the team (and others) interpret it that way.

Sometimes, there’s a happy ending.

But, what if some of the assumptions are wrong?

Perhaps it’s not quite the right work to do. Or, it’s harder to pull off than it seems. Or, some other project/task is actually more important.

Something gets impacted: quality, well-being, other work.

All of these problems might exist and need to be addressed even when you don’t attach a deadline to the work. But the deadline is a powerful constraint. Imposing it raises the stakes and invites all sorts of unhelpful behaviors.

Managing the work in an Agile way will help you make better choices, but there’s a precondition: check your assumptions. Perhaps, in a given situation:

  • “Best before” or “earlier is better” is more accurate than a deadline
  • Useful partial results can be delivered sooner
  • A change of understanding, midway, is legitimate
  • The team will take the work seriously if they know why it matters

Have a deadline only if the date really matters above all else.


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