Why deadlines are killing your productivity

Yes, you read that right: when it comes to matters of project implementation and agile workflows, deadlines actually do more to kill productivity than to spark it to life.

Of course, we live in a changeable world with so many things competing for our time and attention, it is necessary to have deadlines to help us prioritize tasks and make sure they get done.

But in the case of agile workflows, where every objective has a critical and short timeline, they can actually cause more damage than good for a number of reasons:

Create Taskmasters
Set by project managers with little understanding of the work that goes into the task, deadlines can quickly become unrealistic goals and measurements used as a whip rather than a tool to encourage peak performance. Whether punishing the team for not meeting deadlines or cutting corners to meet them, it all works against optimising productivity.

Deflate Moral
With deadlines typically based on information available at the start of the product development cycle, they leave little room for unforeseen problems and can unfairly burden your team with the feeling of failure if not met. Missed commitments lead to retrospective critiques of work processes, bad estimation, and priority changes that can deflate morale and demotivate the whole team.

Peaks and Troughs
Deadlines create the structure for crazy hours at the end of the timeline to get it all in a release because “we are expected to do it”, followed by a recovery period where productivity completely crashes. It’s why founding father of Agile methodology Kent Beck describes overtime as “borrowing from the future”. Burning your team out to meet a deadline will only result in lower productivity after it.

Task Sitting
Deadlines can mean completed tasks going unreported until the cut-off point for fear of setting new precedents for delivery, resulting in team members sitting on completed tasks and slowing fluidity of the project. Or alternatively, conservative delivery estimates are offered to ensure deadlines are met, killing both productivity and effective planning as it budgets for time wasting.

What is the solution?

Roadmaps. Roadmaps without deadlines. Roadmaps based on ranking priorities.

Working at a constant pace, no peaks and troughs, no task sitting or any other factors that detract from productivity levels, and on shorter iterations by order of priority. You can deliver a working product every couple of weeks and move the goalposts from whether it will work to how good can we make it.

This is where ditching the dates on your roadmaps can actually allow you to focus more on the bigger picture: product strategy and vision.

By replacing deadlines with broader time horizons based on priority you create a better tool to communicate the direction you’re going in order to fulfil your product vision, and immediately eliminate the pitfalls of deadlines.

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