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

  1. the success to be achieved
  2. on the method to be efficient
  3. 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:

  1. scope
  2. cost
  3. schedule
  4. 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 -

Fadi Abdelkader
Fadi Abdelkader

I’m a Certified Project Manager and Scrum Master with a diverse experience and a record of deadline met projects. I’m specialized in IT systems and solutions, in addition to my experience in managing accounts and client relations across multiple industry domains including Banking, Government, Consultancy, Energy and IT.

I left Orange Business in 2014.