by: Sigurd Rinde

We all take deadlines for granted. They're annoying of course, but unquestionable and untouchable.

Forget that. Deadlines are bad, foolish and in most cases basically counterproductive. And there are better ways.

Does a farmer have deadlines? Nope, he knows the sequence of things very well, and all activities are initiated by weather, the growth and whatever else nature has in store for him. Rising early; first thing is to check the weather to allow ploughing or harvesting, then he checks his crop for growth and infestations. No deadlines, milestones of Gantt charts - only a starting point immediately followed by a get-the-job-done.

(Note though: He's well prepared, just waiting for the start signal, it being a weather window or a change of hue.)

Spending a weekend on a spring clean, do you organise by project management tools? Gutters cleaned by 10:35, Saturday?

What do you think happens when somebody has a deadline in two weeks? He'll deliver on deadline, if good. Rather a chance that it will be later.

How do you think that will affect your bottom line? No chance in hell it'll be better than planned-by-deadlines-resource-use, only some chance that it'll be worse.

What does a ten days out deadline do to you personally? More often than not it might play out like this: Two days of "got plenty of time", six days of ever increasing bad conscience that you have not started yet, culminating in two days all in a fluster.

Stop the folly. Now.

OK, I hear ya; trains have to be met, product delivery have been promised, people have to meet up, so what's the alternative?

First step: Rewire your brain back to natural mode; think start not end.

Things always begins with the start, duh. Focus on the end is like focus on the ditch when you're out cycling, you'll end up in it. Then when a task ends the next one in the sequence starts, that's how stuff happens. Unless you're in an organisational setting. Or have to catch a train.

Second step: Ask questions.

Do not take a deadline imposed at face value, find out what's the real need. We're so used to deadlines that we invent them all the time. I need the curtains to be finished by Wednesday, production will start on the 11th, sometimes for real, sometimes estimates, sometimes pure fiction. Find out what real and not so real constraints are.

Third step: Have a "Conductor".

Let the process be a live one with a "conductor". Just like an orchestra where each violin or oboe will follow the given sequence and speed as conducted. Trust the conductor to have experience to know roughly what's required, let the conductor speed up things knowing well what it takes in changes to priorities, path or sequence and what should be cut. Be the "farmer".

Fourth step: Real-time run and transparency tool.

Have a real-time tool to run the process for real-time feedback and change distribution - just like a conductor would stand in front of the orchestra will full overview and ears all open while all can see him and all his signs. The good old hierarchy, budget, management system or Gantt chart will not cut it - real-time running with real-time transparency and reporting is a must.

Once again, deadlines are bad for profit. Deadlines are not needed. Awast ye scurvy "deadlines".

Original Post: http://thingamy.typepad.com/sigs_blog/2008/10/forget-deadline.html

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