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TL;DR: Why deadlines work? They do because they force critical thinking by adding a constraint. When a deadline is set on a project, magical things happen. A really great article indicating how to use deadlines effectively.

We all have heard the following comment: “I don’t believe in deadlines. They are bullshit created by (predominantly business) people who don’t understand how hard it is to design and build great products. You cannot rush great [design, software, etc.]”
But the author disagrees. He believes in deadlines.

Why deadlines work

Deadlines work because they force critical thinking by adding a constraint. When a deadline is set on a project, magical things happen.

  • Teams are forced to work backwards from launch
  • Teams must prioritize ruthlessly
  • Teams know if they’re on pace
  • Teams are compelled to ship faster than they otherwise would have

How to use Deadlines effectively

  • There are two types of deadlines: those that matter, and those that don’t really matter at all.
  • The ones that matter tend to relate to either a short-lived opportunity, or a company’s survival. You don’t even need to think about using these types o deadlines, they will use you.
  • For the deadlines which don’t matter, the meaning of the date is often irrelevant to its usefulness. You will get the behavioral benefits by just having a deadline for the sake of it.

Using deadlines when the date doesn’t (really) matter

  • When runners are training, is there some universal force compelling them to care that today’s time was better than yesterday’s? No, runners aspire to hit the time for the sake of achieving it and for the pleasure in knowing they’re growing.
  • This should be your mentality when you rally your team around a deadline. Make it a point of team pride to achieve it. Make everyone want to meet the deadline, if not for the impact it will have to customers, than for the sake of the challenge and for what it says about them.

How to avoid using deadlines disastrously

  • Do not ship a shitty product for the sake of the deadline.
  • Never punish missed deadlines.
  • Celebrate met deadlines.


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