Why deadlines are a waste of time

posted by Russ, June 6 in lifestyle design with tags , ,

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In most companies, and in the world in general, there is a pretty big focus on deadlines. Personally, I think setting deadlines is a waste of time and only serves to create an environment where subpar performance is normal and incomplete or rushed final products are acceptable.

For the sake of argument, assume I’m talking about a corporate environment where someone is expected to work 40 hours per week. If a worker is a good, honest, and hardworking person, they will work on their task at a pace comfortable to them and it will be completed in a reasonable amount of time, at which point the final product would theorectically be at the level expected when tasking it.

If a deadline is set or agreed upon ahead of time, really it’s all based on assumption. And if it turns out that something unexpected comes up and the deadline is too short, in order to still meet the deadline the person will cram and lower their work quality to get it done in the allocated time. And if they’re ahead of schedule, especially in corporate work environments, it would be typical that if they finish early, they’ll simply get another project. Which means to them, work is work, so why rush if you’re ahead of schedule? So really in effect, creating that initial artificial deadline actually serves to create an environment where slacking is acceptable.

It’s fairly well known in the consulting world that people pad their time estimates for exactly this reason. They want to still be able to develop a good product while pleasing the employer, and to do that they need to eliminate the possbility that they will come up short on time, which will look bad. Better to have it take too long and meet expectations than to look like it’s taking too long and missing the mark.

I am a firm believer in tasking someone with work, giving a fairly open expectation, and just letting the person get it done in their own timeframe. After all, if you can’t trust the work ethic, why do you employ them or work with them?

I have not missed the point that deadlines are necessary evils for scheduling and predicting future performance, but that’s about all they’re good for.

Originally posted on Monday, June 6th, 2011 at 6:06 AM .

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