What is a deadline? Let us start with it being a demand for delivery of something by a certain date.
I think that demand for delivery by a deadline is really a couple of different things.
- ‘Real’ dates. These are for things that will not move such as the start of an event or a holiday special. These are true deadlines in that the item will have no value if it is delivered after this date. We don’t get these very often.
- Dependencies. These need to be worked with as true dependencies, then when things move around, we can see what else has been impacted. They can be a bit hard to pick up sometimes and we need to ask questions to get enough understanding from the person requesting delivey by a certain date to pick up that it is really a dependency. We have lots of these.
- Benefit dependencies. Where the business model states that we will start getting benefits from a certain date. Many people will not see these as dependencies and will treat them as deadlines. Identifying the key influential people and having discussions with them to fully understand the dependency is important so that we can all drive to the same goals.
- Downstream activities dependencies. These include training, marketing and so on. Our teams need to include these groups as part of the build. When we find that we are going too fast we need to extend the concept of working on smaller and more valuable items to all involved groups. Then we can start to realise the benefits as soon as possible.
Update 25th September 2012
One of the reasons we may get pressure to meet a deadline is due to a misinterpreted dependency. These can be identified when we call them critical dates, without also mentioning the dependencies that the dates are based upon.
Conversations with key people can help us to discover more about these dependencies. They might be taken aback a little when you first start to ask about the reasons for the critical date, so be careful to explain why you are asking and empathise with the pressures that they are also under.
These concepts are ‘bread and butter’ for seasoned project delivery professionals. The key point is that most of the time we should be managing to dependencies and not to dates.