4 Times a Deadline is a Bad Thing

I love a good deadline. It get’s me focused. It forces my mind into a state of productivity. It is amazing for helping to shed all the project fluff and get to the point.

But not all deadlines are good deadlines.

A deadline is a bad thing if…

It constantly moves

This defies the point of a deadline. A deadline moves because the project is taking on more scope or the parties involved aren’t fully focused on delivering on time.

An occasional moved deadline is unavoidable. Things come up. But if you are always moving a deadline, you might as well just stop calling it that. You can also expect your team to not take any deadline you give them seriously.

It is unrealistic

Deadlines can’t be based on when you would like something to get done. They need to be based on a realistic look at the work involved, and the other work the parties also have to get done.

If your deadline is too close, you’ll end up not meeting it. It’s okay to give a tight time frame, especially if there is a compelling reason to get the project done by a certain date. But be prepared to clear other work away from the participants and to cut away every bit of fluff from the project.

It is TBD

Starting a project, one with multiple steps and lots of moving parts, without a deadline at all can be catastrophic. This, “we’ll figure it out later”, mentality leads to two things.

  1. Your project will take on bloat
  2. Your project will get sidelined before it’s finished

Take the time to create a realistic deadline. This may force you to break your project out into smaller, more manageable parts, which is a good thing anyway.

It doesn’t matter

What happens if your deadline is missed? Does it matter at all? It should. Your participants need to believe in the deadline, and they should see the negative results of not hitting one.

This is best done by demonstrating why the deadline matters in the first place. Maybe take your team through some of the project goals, and show them the pain of not meeting those goals.

It’s a good idea to debrief when a project is done, and special attention should be paid to why the deadline wasn’t met. That way, your next project can be better.

You may also consider reinforcing the importance of a deadline by celebrating when one is actually hit.

Do you have a problem?

You are allowed to screw up. Sometimes, you get the deadline wrong, or something happens. But, if you are constantly missing deadlines or having projects fall apart, you have a chronic problem.

Here are some signs that you have an issue with deadlines:

  1. You get zero push-back when you propose a deadline, but that deadline is almost always missed.

This might mean that you constantly propose unrealistic deadlines and your team knows it won’t matter.

2. You do no research before picking a deadline.

You owe it to your team to put in effort here. Get real estimates of the work that it will take to get your project done. Write it all down and review it with your team. Show them that the deadline is realistic.

3. Every deadline you give is an all hands on deck priority.

This can’t work every time. You will burn everyone out.

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