General management, Project management

Seemingly impossible goals can change reality

It’s a constant bugbear of software teams that deadlines are often just wishes. “You need to deliver it by this date” can be largely the same as a manager donning a pair of ruby slippers, clicking their heals, screwing up their eyes, and saying “I wish, I wish, I wish for you to deliver by this date.” It might work in films, but it doesn’t do anything to change real life. Also, the average office stationery cupboard does not carry ruby slippers.

Or at least, that’s the usual view. In fact, having a deadline can affect more than stress levels. If we know something is going to happen on a particular date then we can prioritise our work accordingly and start to focus on what we can deliver. The deadline is a delivery target, even if not for delivering everything. It forces us to throw out the non-essential items, and in the process we often discover an awful lot suddenly becomes non-essential.

In all this, it’s essential to balance the lofty goal with what’s possible, and not to admonish the team for failing to deliver the impossible. That ensures the people pushing for the goal retain the trust of their team.

Delivering to a deadline—even if we deliver less than everything—demonstrates real progress. It puts real results in the hands of people and allows them to make more informed judgements about what follows. Priorities will inevitably change. Most of all it provides confidence. So the deadline may be an impossible one by which to deliver everything… but if we deliver the essentials then we move into the next phase with a more constructive dialogue.

Photo by Jo Zimny Photos

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