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When is the deadline again?

Written by on December 12, 2004

How a simple thing can break a project - Part 1 (of 3)

Deadlines are an important part of any project. They are important, because they keep the project on track. But, one of the things that frequently break a project is confusion about, when exactly a deadline is due. I do not mean what date it is due - a person usually knows that - but, when on that date.

A project deadline example:

  • December 10, 2004:
    Project start
  • December 15, 2004:
    Gather information from participants
    Susan - 2 days
  • December 16, 2004:
    Create estimate and action plan
    George - 1 day

Susan starts gathering information, and in her mind she has to deliver this to George on December 15th. At 2:15pm she walks into George's office, feeling rather happy - she is almost two hours ahead of the schedule - or so she believes.

George on the other hand is furious, he now got less than two hours to finish a full day's work - and is probably forced to work all night.

This project is a wreck. George and Susan are no longer talking in friendly terms, and George is stressed beyond what's reasonable.

This project broke not because of the actions of either Susan or George - nor because of the project plans itself. It broke because none of them was sure about when the deadlines were due. Sure they knew the date, but not if that date was before or on that date.

Susan believed that she had to deliver on December 15th, George believed that he had to deliver before December 16th - and by giving George only one day to finish his task, this simple thing broke the project plan.

I have experienced this many times before I changed the way I plan our deadlines, and I still see it in many other projects. It does not even have to be a project, it also happens with everything else. If you ask somebody to deliver a packet on a specific date, you often expect that you can use it the same day. But, what if the packet is delivered at 4pm?

What can you do?

There are two things you can do

  1. Always assume that you cannot start the next task until the day after. This is the easiest way - and usually the most practical approach, but not always possible. Sometimes deadlines take place in such close succession, that you cannot add this buffer.
  2. State when a deadline is due - including the specific time. Instead of "December 15, 2004", write "December 15, 2004 - 8am".

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.


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