Jake Trent

Deadlines Constrain the Solution Space

Reasonable deadlines also constrain the solution space.

Purpose of Deadlines

This is what deadlines are for, after all. They help us finish. They help us make up our minds. Among other things...

They also help us have a more accurate view of when something will be done. They help us coordinate a shared task. They help us prepare for the next steps. And so on...

Unreasonable Deadlines

Of course, what's worse than a deadline? An unreasonable deadline. "Unreasonable" might mean that it causes the work to be done to be so constrained that it's not done well. Or, in order to attempt well, workers performing the feat might sacrifice their own wellness.

Unreasonable deadlines stir a primal reaction for self preservation.

This is not the focus of this post.

Meeting a Reasonable Deadline

Even a reasonable deadline can have unintended and perhaps unwanted consequences.

Responsible workers want what's good for the product and company. Let's say this deadline is reasonable -- it supports that desire. They'll want to meet the deadline, perhaps believing in the delivered value, because of pride in commitments kept, or fear of the consequences of an unmet deadline. Such a work will ensure the work to be done fits the deadline and will want to given himself leeway to ensure this.

The solution conforms to the space that the deadline gives it. In other words, the deadline defines the work. It immediately affects and is not easily unaffected. Brains start to work within those bounds.

This was the point of the deadline, right?

But what if workers could deliver a better solution in the time? Perhaps there's a potential innovation in addition to the work to be done? Perhaps some more long-term investment? Would we want it? Perhaps we would.

Communicating Around Deadlines

Another kind of unreasonable deadline is the one that people feel they can't talk about.

One responsible thing a worker should do is communicate with the people who defined the deadline. One responsible thing a deadline giver should do is to communicate with the workers about the deadline.

The deadline's effect on the solution space is one such thing to communicate.

If a worker could do a different kind of job with a different kind of deadline and feels that might be a better outcome, he should let that be known.

And if a deadline giver knows of this phenomenon, he can be open and inviting, explicitly asking about how variations in the deadline affect the solution outcomes.

Lots of sentences, and it just comes back to talking to each other. Remember the phenomenon, and we'll remember one thing to talk about.