The deadline illusion
Working as a Project Manager, you would probably know that ‘deadline’ is one of the scariest words in this field. Question is, is it worth to get that scared? What would happen if it was not achieved? Give a wild guess…
Working earlier in Information Technology projects, I came to believe that ‘deadlines are an illusion’. Something like a parental warning to emphasize a shady restriction that could easily be disregarded with a hundred and one workarounds and yet achieved at ease.
the origins of the word deadline
Ivan Pavlov said “Don't become a mere recorder of facts, but try to penetrate the mystery of their origin” and to understand the fear of deadlines we have to understand their origin.
The word deadline started in the 1860s during the American Civil War where there were not enough prisons to accommodate all the War prisoners. It began as a real line, drawn in the dirt or marked by a fence or rail, restricting the war prisoners in camps. They were warned, "If you cross this line, you're dead." To make dead sure this important boundary was not overlooked, guards and prisoners soon were calling it by its own bluntly descriptive name, the DEAD-LINE.
The civil war had ended, the deadline markers were washed away, but the fear of deadlines remained!
Ironic… right ?
deadline concept: nowadays
One’s focus should not be on the fear of the deadline but on
- the success to be achieved
- on the method to be efficient
- and to move forward.
success is much more than meeting a deadline
One is ought to acquire the belief that project success is much more than meeting a deadline, and that missing the deadline is not total failure. The Project Management methodology defines the Project constraints in what is called the project management triangle as:
- and quality
Thus, one can clearly see that the deadline (or schedule) is at most one fourth of the projects’ success indicators. This weight changes according to various factors such as importance, criticality, requirements, project thresholds etc. Accordingly, fear of the deadline should not distort one’s awareness of the other ‘equally’ important factors to achieve project success but should be constantly watched and wisely controlled.
Once one overcomes the hysterical fear of the deadline -and understands that meeting the deadline is only a small part of the story and that there is more in the success to be achieved- only then will one be able to take one’s projects to higher grounds, perhaps even achieve milestones earlier and fully claim that one is free of the fear of the deadline illusion.
“in order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear...” (Bill Cosby).
photo credit: © Elnur - Fotolia.com
April 3, 2013
Mark, thanks for your comment.
Some people might chose to be paid +/- 10%, while others would wait and get the whole sum. Similarly, each project and client has a different set of characteristics. Some clients would accept low quality on time, others would want a delayed high quality etc.
The article mentions that: "one can clearly see that the deadline (or schedule) is at most one fourth of the projects’ success indicators. This weight changes according to various factors such as importance, criticality, requirements, project thresholds etc. Accordingly, fear of the deadline should not distort one’s awareness of the other ‘equally’ important factors to achieve project success but should be constantly watched and wisely controlled."
So, its all up to you (the project manager) and the project to decide how big is the picture you want to look at.
April 3, 2013
Sara, thanks for your comment... I totally agree that changing a mindset are a challenge and it takes time and effort to change.
March 28, 2013MarkFar too simplistic and looking at the problem only from an "engineers" perspective. You admit that there are more than three elements to a project but forget all about the bigger picture which includes Market Opportunity, Customer Expectations to name but two. The "Deadline" is shorthand for a whole raft of things outside the engineering development cycle. I remember working for a customer whose comment about our company was "I like working with 'x' they always deliver on time so I can fit my projects around them." He then continued "Their products are always sh*t but they work like stink to put them right afterwards and they work well enough that I can build my new processes". Before you praise quality above timescales work out what's important. Think of your salary, would you rather be paid +/- 10% on time and corrected in the next few days or exactly the right amount one month late?
March 28, 2013SaraThis was a really interesting history lessons. Working with coaching and personal development I know from experience how often such impractical and sometimes scary values may have become fixed ideas in the mind, often completely subconscious. And it is passed on from generation to generation. Changing mindset is done first by knowledge and will. Thereafter a coach may come in handy. There are only two ways of changing a deeply rooted mindset:
* Repetition over time or
* Strong emotional impact. The latter is often difficult to control (love, catastrophes, illnesses etc) and the former requires discipline over time. That's why a coach may come in handy to help over the hurdles of establishing a new, more efficient habitual mindset.
March 22, 2013
Hi Josh, Thanks a lot for your comment. I have to say that indeed deadlines come at the expense of cost and/or quality. In IT as you have specified; "costs are almost always non-negotiable" however, as I had outlined there is "a hundred and one workarounds" for negotiating the deadlines. In my opinion the PM world is not just clear black and clear white, in fact it is mostly grey, and every project has a different set of variables to tweak and make it work.