Deadlines are killing your company

If there is one thing large companies love it’s deadlines. We’ll set Big Hairy Goals somewhere in the not-so-near future and we’ll take them seriously. Promised!

Setting a hard deadline feels like an accomplishment. It’s considered a strong move by an effective leadership. It’s also the best way to get nothing done.

Why? Because if individual willpower is a rare good, company willpower is pure Unobtainium. The deadline we swore to keep is only the highest priority until the next one comes along. That’s usually during the very next meeting. Focus gets lost. Other fires need to be put out. All of a sudden 3 months have passed.

The cure is shipping. Pushing out a working product to real users. It has the benefit of generating feedback and making the deadline very easy: tonight. When people actually use your product, they’ll make sure you’re focused.

“I’m going to learn Spanish this year.”
“I’ll get in shape for the marathon next March.”
“We’ll deliver phase 3 of Project Mammoth by August 12.”

Lies, lies, lies.

Want to learn Spanish? Install Duolingo now and put in half an hour. Put on those shoes and run 2KM to get started. Build the habit.

As for Project Mammoth? Try pushing out a Baby Elephant by the end of the week and see what happens. Delivering great products is not about magical planning and strong willpower, but about building habits as a company.

Deadlines and the retroplans that come out of them are why your product is mediocre. It’s why your competition is beating you. It’s why your best people leave you. You allow this to happen.

When everyone in your company comes up with hard deadlines, but nobody ships, you are collectively lying to yourselves. Most companies have a big list of reasons why they can’t ship to production regularly. They are called “excuses” and belong in the Excuse Backlog.

Stop planning to climb Everest one day if you don’t consistently take the stairs to your office.

Focus on building the habit.
Do the work.

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