Thursday, January 29, 2009

Immaterial Deadlines

Most deadlines mean nothing. Many are ambiguously set by higher levels management. Let’s face it, what is going to happen if your project is completed two weeks later? How about two months later? Are markets going to crash? Will your employer be forced into bankruptcy? Will your reputation be permanently damaged? Of course, for some projects, the answer is yes. Others have made the same observation regarding most of the projects we tackle.

How, as managers, do we deal with forgiving deadlines? I found some words by Annie Dillard to be helpful. The PulitzerPrize winner said, “A schedule defends from chaos and whims.” This places some importance on deadlines, even when dates are trivial. Deadlines can help us to reject the unimportant requests.

Whims can be a real problem. I once worked with a PM who, I swear, managed his work by the e-mail he received. He used his e-mail to define his activities. Tom Peters may advocate Management by Wandering Around (MBWA), but my PM friend seemed to be an advocate of MBE (Management by E-mail).

Have you found creative ways to manage to deadlines that seem to be inconsequential? If so, what works for you?


  1. Great blog, it got me thinking. When you mention deadlines being optional, I believe that many times consequences are missing. Certainly not the only reason slippage happens, just something I have seen several times. What would happen if I told my young son that there were rules he must follow but nothing would happen if he doesn't? The answer is the same with my son as it would be with many adults, the rules would be forgotten. Likewise performance is forgotten if it doesn't appear to matter. How often in the past year have you seen bad practices overlooked or even rewarded?

  2. I agree with the previous poster about consequences. I think that good management would impose the consequences and tasks would stay on shedule. I don't think most deadlines are a make or break deal, but, deadlines are necessary to make sure that you don't get under a mountain of tasks. So, I see one benefit of deadlines and maybe the only one, is to make sure that work is getting done at a steady pace and does not become overwhelming.

  3. A reason fror deadlines can be found in the concept of punctuated equilibrium.

    While the concept may not be perfectly accurate it is a valid idea.