The Hidden Costs of Deadlines

Gil Broza is on a mission to make software development more effective, humane and responsible. He helps people pick up where Scrum left off, especially on the technical, human and thinking sides of agile. His new book "The Agile Mind-Set" helps practitioners go beyond process and adopt a true agile approach to work. He is also the author of "The Human Side of Agile", the definitive practical book on leading agile teams to greatness; host of the popular virtual trainings Individuals and Interactions and Packing List for Your Agile Journey; and co-leader (with Johanna Rothman) of the annual Influential Agile Leader event. Any given day, you can find him coaching, consulting, training, speaking, facilitating and writing. Get Gil's popular 20-session mini-program, Something Happened on the Way to Agile, free at OnTheWayToAgile.com.

Deadlines seem to be a way of life for managers and product owners. But all too often, they create unintended consequences.

We start paying attention to dates and deadlines from a young age. My kids receive homework assignments with due dates attached. My wife and I have deadlines of our own, such as applying to high school for our kids, and filing taxes. At work, deadlines are everywhere; almost every undertaking has some date attached to it by which it ought to be completed, approved and delivered.

Have you ever wondered why we do that? And why dates always seem to matter as much as they do? Why they are so ubiquitous, that the word “deadline” is no longer reserved only for really important dates?

Some Deadlines Are Real
Indeed, certain deliverables matter only within some time window. Later than that, they are no longer needed or justified, or they negatively affect the recipient. For instance:

  • Every year, tax software makers must upgrade their products in time reflect tax law changes.
  • Game makers may want new product offerings to be ready for purchase before Christmas.
  • Organizations that issue requests for proposals may allow vendors a few weeks to respond; after a certain date, these organizations make their choice.

In some cases, the time window is exactly one day long. The work that goes into setting up elections, marathons and trade …

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