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Let’s Talk About Deadlines

Warped clock

Time flies when you're working to deadlines

Deadlines. If you’re a Project Manager, you probably love them; if you’re a developer, you probably hate them. Or ignore them. Or both. Personally, I have mixed feelings about them. They can very useful for organisation and motivation but they can also be stressful and, occasionally, harming to overall quality. Like ‘em or not though, they are pretty much everywhere, in every job.

Although I’d consider the web industry to be rather relaxed compared to most, we still have our fair share of deadlines. In my experience they occur in two different types, the ‘let’s all aim for this milestone’ type and the ‘YOU MUST HAVE IT COMPLETE BY THIS DATE AS IT’S PART OF AN INTERNATIONALLY COORDINATED MARKETING CAMPAIGN’ type. Those are the best, for sure, and there’s nothing quite like the fear of public humiliation as visitors pound a web site that doesn’t work to spur you into testing the end product with extreme vigour before launch. It’s a healthy type of terror, I find.

Humour aside, that’s when deadlines are actually very good. They can work wonders for productivity by making us focus and it’s always a great feeling when everyone in the office is knuckling down and working harder than Japanese beavers. Having a tangible goal with actual meaning and consequences can be a great way to get everyone to channel their energies in a productive direction. A little bit of stress and fear (I’m assuming everyone’s terrified of failure, just like me) can really help move things along and I actually think the lack of these elements can sometimes kill momentum on projects, especially anything that’s internal and not time critical. Sometimes all it takes is few late nights (plus plenty of coffee and Red Bull) to accomplish what could otherwise takes weeks.

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

Douglas Adams

On the flip side though, stress isn’t nice and I’d be lying if I said that some deadlines didn’t stress me out quite a lot. As much as I said that pressure and fear can be great motivators, you really don’t want to be dealing with a lot of it on a constant basis. There’s a fine line between being aware of a deadline, cautious and mindful of it, determined to break and domesticate it like some kinda of lion tamer, and simply going off your head out of pure stress and terror. People control their nerves in different ways and have different limits but trust me, nothing is worth going to the nut house over.

Managing deadlines is therefore important and accepting any old one is just as silly as not having any (even vague milestones are better than nothing) and that’s where that fabled thing called project management comes in. Planning, organisation, coordination, communication, these are all important facets of any project and, when combined with colleagues who respect deadlines and adhere to them, you’ve got a high chance of success. That last point is important though as there’s nothing worse than someone turning round and telling you two hours before a deadline that they won’t be finished for another four days (been there, not fun). Or leaving the building completely without having finished or even bothering to tell you (been there too).

I guess for me deadlines are tools can be very useful when used wisely and as part of proper project management and teamwork. They can help lend momentum to work and give us all focus and solid goals. When used badly though, they can be highly stressful and unpleasant, random dates picked from thin air that are simply unrealistic and unachievable, constraining what could have been a great project otherwise and frustrating everyone in the process.

So, that’s my views on deadlines. What do you think about them? Do you love the focus or hate the pressure? Are they a necessary management tool or the bane of creativity and good development?

The deadline for comment submission is in seven days.

Image credit: CityGypsy11

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Author: Gordon McLachlan

Gordon is uncomfortably good looking.


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  1. Mariusz May 7, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Deadlines can be very enjoyable if you’re working on stuff you enjoy. Your own projects or ideas. You and your friends forming a startup and you need to get stuff out of the door quickly and efficiently so you get your invested time and money back as soon as possible before you run out of resources to build it. Or you are part of incubator and you need to show your project to get money to develop it.

    On client projects, especially with a nervous client — not so much.

    • Gordon May 11, 2012 at 12:12 pm

      I think it’s all about how achievable they are. If you’re confident you can hit a deadline then they aren’t stressful but if not, they can be scary!

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