What’s your deadline? That’s a question that comes up a lot and people may or may not give much thought to the answer. My wife asked me that question about a project that I was working on recently and it actually caught me by surprise. I had been working on the project as time allowed and hadn’t made it a real priority. Consequently, progress has been slow as projects with committed deadlines (almost all of them) consumed time and resources and got done first.
During the 60 Minutes interview of Walter Isaacson who wrote what will likely be the authoritative biography of Steve Jobs, Isaacson said the Jobs would put forward deadlines that everyone around him thought impossible and that it was through Jobs sheer force of will and insistence on meeting the deadline that the goal would actually be met. That’s a powerful thought. The action of choosing a deadline can be so motivating that it makes the seemingly impossible occur.
I remember my very first corporate job. There was a project list and in one of the columns was the word “Deadline”. In the very next column were the words “Revised Deadline”. How many times do you think the original deadline was met? Almost never. The powers that be had acknowledged that they expected the deadline to be missed by incorporating a revised deadline into the report. No one took the original deadline very seriously.
These are three diverse examples about the power of deadlines. Deadlines are more important than most people realize. When a deadline is set, it is an opportunity to send a message about the importance of the project and management’s expectations. That message can either be motivating or demotivating. Are deadlines an imperative in your organization and do people go to extraordinary measures to meet them? Or as the old joke goes, is it more like: “I love deadlines, especially the whooshing sound they make as they go flying by”?
The deadline culture can make a huge difference in your organization’s performance. I’ve worked in multiple places from those where deadlines were essentially ignored to those where they were considered an imperative and people worked extraordinarily hard in order to meet them. It is without question that an organization that respects deadline gets more done and performs at a higher standard than those that take a more relaxed approach.
None of this should be construed to say that a deadline should be arbitrary and capricious. Setting deadlines that don’t consider the magnitude of the work and the people responsible for doing it will most likely be ignored. That said, using aggressive deadlines that challenge people (even if they are initially thought to be unrealistic) will get more out of the organization than most thought possible. Moreover, it will leave everyone in the organization feeling good about themselves. They will recognize that they achieved something that they didn’t think possible and that their boundaries are far greater than they previously believed.
The next time you begin a project, ask: What’s your deadline?
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